“Why won’t my Baby Boomer boss listen to me?” This was a question I frequently heard Millennials ask at a conference for those working in Christian non-profits. At first I was annoyed, and thought, “Get over it, maybe your ideas are not that good.” But then I wondered, “How can I help?” Cause here’s the deal: I am technically a Millennial (I’m borderline between Millennial and Gen X, depending on who you ask), and my experience with Boomers has been awesome. My boss is in a generation very different from my own—all of the senior leadership at my organization is older than me. I see this as a good thing! I am blessed to have Boomers in my life who love me, listen to me, and collaborate with me. But I see now that this is not the norm. So I would love to pass on four workplace practices that I have found to be successful when bridging the Millennial-Boomer divide, in a Christian workplace.
1. Pray. When I say this I am not saying pray that they change. I am telling you to pray for them and to pray for your own attitude. Pray that the Lord will give you opportunities to collaborate, to listen, to show that you value them and their opinion.
Pray for God to change your heart; this is one of the great things about our God, when we cry out to Him, we leave the conversation changed. We come away different, and others will see it.
Also, look for moments to pray together. Maybe there is a project you’re ideating or a staff concern, step out and say, “Can we pray about this right now?” This will break down boundaries and barriers.
2. Take the initiative. Just because they are older and more seasoned does not mean they are 100% confident with reaching out to the youngins. They may fear rejection, they may think you have nothing in common, they may not “get” you, but you both need each other.
I joked with a Boomer coworker of mine that Millennials should #takeaboomertocoffee. She laughed and said in a serious tone, “You need to do that!” So here I am encouraging you to ask that Boomer to join you at the local coffee shop, pay for their drink and ask them about their history in ministry, how they came to know the Lord, a funny college story, or best concert they ever attended. Be interested and be genuine.
3. Sometimes new is better. Sometimes it isn’t. This one can be the toughest. You may love to innovate but feel that innovation is not valued where you serve. You may want to branch out to new social media platforms, but Facebook is all they need. You may think it is time to spend the money and update the website, but many think the site is good enough. Work with in the parameters given to innovate, and know that you might be wrong.
When I first became the Marketing Director for World Impact, we were using an in-house custom made mass emailing program. It did the job, but it was clunky compared to new, user-friendly options readily available. I suggested we try Mailchimp for six months so we could increase the number of emails, see analytics, and not have to manage the unsubscribes—two months in we made the full switch! Going in, I put together a timeline for evaluation, I gave it measurable metrics, and was intentional about talking up the gains this new system provided. This time, newer was better.
But there have also been times when new was not better. We tried a direct mail campaign that increased the pieces of mail folks got from us, but it backfired in a big way. Our donors did not like this and they let us know. They liked receiving one piece of mail from us a month, and we returned to the old way after evaluation.
4. It is ok to not be best friends. Us millennials like to have relationships, we like our lives to intertwine, and working with our friends is fun. But there are some teammates we simply may not get along with. We pray for and with them, we care about them, but we just may not want to be best friends. This is ok.
I know that in the Christian nonprofit sphere this sounds mean or harsh, but it is not, it just is. This is not a reflection on you or them; it is just like life, accept it and move on.
Bonus: show respect whenever you can—say hello, make the coffee, ask about life events at the “water cooler,” meet your deadlines (early and ask for feedback when appropriate), do that extra thing that annoys you (without complaining), and this will show the Boomer in your life that not all Millennials are the same.
For years there have been stereotypes flying around about Millennials—some true, some not. This just means that we have to work to counter what has been rumored. So let’s work together with Boomers to change the norm.