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3 Tips to Help Millennials and Baby Boomers See Eye to Eye

Millennials and boomersIn less than a decade, Millennials (born 1981-1996) are expected to make up 75 percent of the U.S. workforce. Simultaneously, nearly 65 percent of CPA Baby Boomers (born 1946-1964) say that they do not expect to retire at age 65, but will work beyond that age, according to a 2012 AICPA poll.

As a result, these groups will likely work side by side for the foreseeable future. Because of this, it is critical for Baby Boomers and Millennial CPAs to find common ground in order for their organizations to succeed. One key to developing a strong relationship is focusing less on differences and more on understanding each other’s unique skill sets.

But, perhaps there’s something even more important than that—understanding the motives behind why each group does what it does.

For instance, Baby Boomers may be aware that many Millennials are delaying marriage, and believe it is primarily because attitudes have changed. However, 34 percent of Millennials say financial reasons are  holding them back. Additionally, most Baby Boomers are aware that many Millennials carry a heavy student debt load. But they may not realize college tuition and fees have increased 559 percent since 1985, making it nearly impossible for most students to fund their education without assistance.

Learning to see eye to eye must start at the ground level, with individual CPAs reaching across generational lines and interacting as valued colleagues. If they don’t, both groups may get disgruntled which can lead Millennials to leave their organizations or even worse leave the profession. It can also leave the Baby Boomers, whether they are in public accounting, business and industry, government or education, dealing with heavy staff turnover and staff morale issues. The effects of this could have far-reaching implications for not only our profession—but the economic health of the United States.

Here are some ways you can bridge the gap between these generations in the workplace:  

Recognize each other’s strengths—one excels at insight, the other at innovation. Baby Boomers have decades worth of wisdom and can often see the “big picture.” Millennials, in contrast, might not yet have that depth and breadth of vision, but they are often ahead when it comes to technology and innovation. Millennials can help Baby Boomers remain in-demand in their fields by helping them leverage, and stay up-to-date with technology. Baby Boomers can give Millennials a leg up—helping them make important connections with clients; teaching them leadership, business and communications skills and overall, helping them see the big picture.

Develop cross-generational mentorship programs that promote a collaborative and face-to-face interaction versus a top-down approach. While it’s true that Millennials often prefer using technology to collaborate versus attending face-to-face meetings, they also want and need one-to-one personal interaction and the ability to practice developing leadership skills. An excellent place for this to happen is through a mentoring program where both individuals learn from one another. Another way to strengthen professional and interpersonal bonds is to find common interests outside of work. For example you could participate in a hands-on volunteering project that you both believe in. Both Millennials and Baby Boomers will likely come away with a better appreciation for each other, and often, a more thoughtful approach to their work.

Foster mutual respect for different work styles. For decades, Baby Boomers have been ingrained in a culture where one’s physical presence at the workplace—in other words, arriving to the office early and staying late—was a true measure of dedication and a step needed to get ahead. It’s no wonder, then, when Baby Boomers witness their Millennial counterparts leaving the office early, they question their dedication. However, what they may not realize is that that young person is not checking out, but instead going to work remotely—first on the train, then on the bus, and later, at home before bed. Millennials in contrast, might be disillusioned attending lengthy in-person meetings in closed conference rooms, and feel little has been accomplished.

Yet, if a Baby Boomer takes the time to discuss the inherent value that results from these meetings, the Millennial might be more apt to actively engage. Many times when a Baby Boomer teaches a Millennial a task he or she has performed for years, the Millennial is able to leverage his or her technological expertise to discover a more efficient method for performing the task. In this instance, Baby Boomers should not focus on teaching Millennials how to comply with set processes, rather they should be open to new strategies and recognize and reward the Millennial’s contribution.

Feeling appreciated is universal. Every employee, no matter his or her age or background, wants to know they're valued, and that’s something we can all do to help each other see eye to eye—even if it is intentionally remembering to say “Thank you” or “You did a great job” or “You make me proud to work at this organization.”

Donna Salter, Senior Manager- Young Member Initiatives, American Institute of CPAs.

Millennial and Baby Boomer courtesy of Shutterstock.




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