Turning the Generation Gap upside down: 5 tips for working with Baby Boomers

PM Network last month reported that 65% of people feel that there is a generation gap in project management. We are living in the first period where five generations are working together in the workplace. Experienced (i.e. older) project managers now have Generation X and Generation Y people on their teams. The age differences at work, and strategies for managing younger people, were mentioned by several presenters at the PMI Global Congress in October.

Social media is often mentioned as the driver for having to ‘deal’ with young people at work: we must get up to date! Young people are much better at technology than we are! A whole generation of new project managers can’t spell properly because they only understand txt spk!

Where are the speakers discussing how younger project managers can work successfully with Baby Boomers? Is everyone talking about the generation gap at work over the age of 45?

Baby Boomers are everywhere!

Regular readers will know that I turned 35 recently. I have worked with people older than me for my entire career, and I’m sure I have many more years to go before I’m the oldest person in the office.

I’m also sure that I am not alone in working with people older than me.

Baby Boomers are those people born 1946 and 1964. According to Larry and Meagan Johnson, authors of Generations, Inc., they make up 30% of the workforce. There’s an even older generation – the Traditionals – who were born before 1946, and this group makes up 8% of the workforce. That’s nearly 40% of people in the office, so if you are 45 or under, chances are you work with some of them.

Baby Boomers are often in managerial or specialist jobs, so they are highly likely to be:

  • Your project sponsor
  • The line manager of staff members you want to bring on to your project team
  • Your PMO Director
  • Subject matter experts you need to consult or have work on your project
  • Members of your Project Board, Steering Group or governance body

Young project managers can’t escape them! Just like Baby Boomers have to come to terms with the technically-savvy Gen X, Gen Y and Linksters (those born after 1995), we have to come to terms with working with those older than us.

The challenges of working with older colleagues

Working with Baby Boomers is not without its challenges. The biggest challenge, which I hear over and over again from younger project managers (and have experienced myself in some roles) is not being taken seriously. Their ideas are discounted because of their age. They don’t have the experience of older colleagues, so their views are not considered as reliable or weighty.

Unfortunately, in a project management role as a young person, you still have to get the job done, whether your older colleagues rate you or not. Here are 5 tips for working with Baby Boomers.

5 tips for working with Baby Boomers

1. Acknowledge their experience. Whether you like it or not, Boomers have been around the block and seen it all before. As a younger project manager, you bring a different set of skills and knowledge to the team, but don’t discount their contribution. Respecting their experience will also earn their respect.

2. Use them. Boomers have been around projects and your organisation for some time. What can you get them to usefully contribute? How can you tap into their networks to access knowledge from other people or get a better understanding of how the company works?

3. Don’t micromanage them. Boomers have been used to managing their own time and getting on with the job. They don’t need to be constantly supervised, and they won’t thank you for it. Remember to keep a balance though – as any project team member, they still need guidelines, a sense of structure and to provide you with regular updates.

4. Get them onboard. It’s no good running a project that ignores the needs of Boomers. Yes, they might have retirement plans and they might be sitting it out through yet another round of changes at work. But if you ignore their resistance and simply assume that they will soon be gone, you’ll be storing up more problems after project implementation. Help them adapt to the changes that the project brings.

5. Be excellent. This applies regardless of your age, or the age of the people you are managing. It’s hard to respect and take seriously someone who messes about at work and doesn’t do a professional job. Hold yourself to high standards.

What is your experience of managing projects where the team members are of a different generation to you? Share your tips for harmonious working relationships with us in the comments.

Get a copy of my free report, 6 Ways to Get Taken Seriously at Work, when you buy a copy of Overcoming Imposter Syndrome.