The Millennial’s guide to managing Gen Xers and Baby Boomers

April 28, 20165 Minute Read

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You’re a Millennial. You’re the boss. You’re fifteen years younger than some of your employees, and you’re pretty sure they hate you for it. You’re not alone—according to a recent study by Elance-oDesk and Millennial Branding, 28 percent of Millennials are managers and an additional two-thirds expect to enter management within the next decade. If you’re a Millennial manager, chances are you’re managing older employees. Worried that your Gen X and Baby Boomer staff will give you the side-eye the minute you start assigning them tasks? For starters, accept that they might (will) resent having a Millennial manage them, and you’ll most likely have different communication styles due to the generation gap. But this doesn’t have to stand in the way of your team’s success. Here are a few tips for managing Gen Xers and Baby Boomers and establishing your role as an IT leader.

Get to know your team

To figure out what makes your Gen X and Baby Boomer employees tick, take some time to get to know them, one-on-one and in a group. Invite them to lunch and ask them how they got into tech. You might find that you share a passion for the same things about IT, or that you geek out on the same things. Love building computers in your spare time? Crazy about gaming? You might have a compatriot in your midst. When I was an IT director, I was known to throw up a Vulcan salute to my colleagues on more than one occasion. I also discovered the valuable expertise, talents, and interests that would come in handy during the projects we worked on. Building solid working relationships is essential to succeeding as a leader, so take the time to build a great relationship with your staff.

As you build these relationships, keep in mind that you shouldn’t treat older employees differently than you treat younger ones. In a 2014 article in, management consultant Alison Green warned, “Don’t joke around with the younger staff members and then turn serious with the older ones, or otherwise treat them differently,” Green said. “If you’re warmer to people closer to your age, your staff will notice—and it will undermine their respect for you and their trust that you can manage them appropriately.”

Ask your staff how you’re doing

There’s one trait Millennials share that will serve you well: the desire for frequent feedback at work. According to Fast Company, “Millennials are willing to try new things, challenge processes, and think differently about a situation. They’re also very supportive and will be more likely to sponsor employees, providing them with learning and growth opportunities.” Ask your staff how you’re doing, and be ready to make some adjustments and tweaks based on what you learn. One employee may prefer a weekly half-hour check-in, while another may be more comfortable with frequent ad hoc communication in person or online.

There’s no one-size-fits-all approach to managing other generations. Your Gen X and Baby Boomer staff will probably want clear direction and formal check-ins rather than constant feedback, but everyone is different. Give your team the opportunity to share what works for them. They’ll appreciate it.

Hone your management skills

Managing a team of IT professionals requires a totally different set of skills than working on your own or as part of a team. Focus on building your managerial skills. Find a mentor, take advantage of management and leadership training, read bios about the great IT leaders of the world. If you admire how someone manages their staff, think about bringing some of their management techniques into your own style.

The learning process is like acquiring a tech skill. A software engineer, for example, takes time to first build proficiency in a programming language, mastering the fundamentals of how to create software, before finding his or her unique style as a coder. After building a strong foundation in the core skills that successful IT leaders possess, you will discover your own distinctive leadership style and become more confident in expressing it.

You may be uncomfortable issuing orders to career IT professionals who are older than you—possibly even the same age as your parents. This is typical. Remember that you were promoted to management for a reason. Your team’s success depends on your willingness to own your leadership role and provide the direction everyone needs. Show them that you’ll be a wise and benevolent ruler.

Unplug. No, really.

Are you plugged into your smartphone all day, scrolling through texts, tweets, and Slack messages to avoid FOMO? This may be a daily routine for you. For boomers? Not so much. Gen Xers are likely to be a little more into it, but not as much. You might feel like you’re managing older employees well if you’re chatting with them frequently and constantly available to them. That can be misleading, though: this always-on style of communication is no substitute for face time in person or via video conference, where more important conversations are more likely to take place.

I experienced this with my staff during a database migration—they weren’t comfortable volunteering except in person or on via video chat. I found that availability really meant making sure I had created an opportunity for them to voice their thoughts in a venue that felt safe to them. Avoid slipping behind the bright blue glow of the screen when it comes time to manage your staff. Instead, take the lead and plan in-person or video check-ins with your employees, then actively manage them during those sessions.

Connecting with and managing Gen Xers and Baby Boomers will take time, but it’s worth the effort. You may just find that you have more in common with than you thought.

Live long and prosper.

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