JKinslow's blog

Why Boomers should listen to Gen Y

Posted on: September 11, 2009

Yesterday, waiting for my lunch appointment to arrive, I watched a young man behind the counter texting to a friend between customers. My first reaction was dismay. Shortly after, I realized it is his generation who will be teaching our generation about customer relationships.  Gen Y pierceA little scary? Maybe.

Reverse mentoring 
It only seems scary because we’re used to an older generation assuming the mentor role in work environments. Traditionally, it’s the high-seniority professionals showing the younger, less experienced mentees the ropes. 

However, if you’re of the Baby Boom Generation, you’ve probably noticed a reverse mentoring trend happening in the workplace. It’s essentially Gen Y (also known as Millennials) mentoring the well-established, more experienced workforce, as opposed to the other way around. The trend is most noticeable in professional fields where technology is an integral part of the work environment.  

What Gen Y is telling us
Although no one seems to agree exactly where Gen Y starts and stops (late 1970s – late 1990s), it is a fact that it is the largest generation (approximately 80 million) to hit the American market since the Baby Boomers.

Gen Y are digital natives, meaning digital technology already existed when they were born. They can easily multi-task between searching the Internet, listening to music on their MP3, texting on their mobile phone, while TV is playing in the background.

Growing up amid a high-speed bombardment of information has produced a generation with short attention spans, no doubt. But, it has also produced a sharp generation who understand how to effectively market themselves and products using social networks.

Why Boomers should listen
Because of the emerging influence of Gen Y, it’s important we understand how they’re different in order to monetize marketing strategies in a Web 2.0 environment. When marketing to them, remember that:

  1. Mobile phones are like an extension of their arm
  2. They don’t care about ads, but what their friends think
  3. Television is background noise; Internet TV is better
  4. Social media networks equal relationship building
  5. They expect work tools to mirror Web tools 
  6. They value work-life balance; flex-time, an ability to work from anywhere in a “fun” work environment; a need to “buy in”  to an idea (aka “Generation Why?”)

An environment where everyone wins
If we can embrace the concept of reverse mentoring, and recognize the positive changes Gen Y brings to business, everyone can benefit. Boomers can learn from Gen Y’s ability to adapt quickly to changing work environments, and at how easily they give and receive feedback. Having grown up during the Enron era, they are skeptical about concepts such as company loyalty, and appear to have an almost built in expectation of company layoffs.

It’s Gen Y’s time to challenge outdated norms and create real change in an environment so everyone can win.

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10 Responses to "Why Boomers should listen to Gen Y"

I totally agree. Blogging, tweeting, and texting is the proof I am listening. I can’t believe I am doing all this.

I just started a new blog about marriage and how men can better love their wives. I would appreciate it if you would take a look and give me your comments and feedback.



Hi Ken

Thank you for your comments. I enjoyed reading your blog! It takes a man, not a guy to write about the things you do! All the best to you.

I have Gen Y children and work with Gen Y employees. As a baby boomer consultant and trainer, I have an up close view of how they live, communicate, work and think. I happen to think they are great and ARE able to teach boomers a thing or two. If you are open to listening to them, they will also be willing to learn from a boomer. The skepticiscm is real, not perceived, but this generation has great qualities and a lot to offer our companies. They are skeptics but will be loyal to a boss rather than a company. The key is to develop leaders who understand different generations in the workplace and certainly, how to communicate with and lead the emerging Gen Y’s.


Thank you for taking time to comment and for providing thoughful insights to what you experience every day as a trainer and consultant to baby boomers. I like that you noted Gen Y’s skepticisim. I see it as a more realistic view, and that whether they gained the insight through real life experiences, or by witnessing their baby boomer parents dealing with it, it shows they are thinking critically and planning well for their future and the future of their children.

I would agree that we can learn a lot from Gen Y. This is why my best workers tend to be College Interns. Learning should never stop, even after College. However I see this as a two-way street. Baby boomers still have quite a bit of relevant knowledge.

I would share your initial reaction to seeing the young man texting between customers. My staff mutes or “unplugs” their phones when they are working as it is too easy to get distracted. This is how mistakes or substandard work happens. I have also had to work with Gen Y staff on handwriting and business correspondence. There are a few “old school” touches that should never go out of style.

Bonnie —

You raise great points regarding the reciprocity of information sharing that needs to take place. When I wrote this post, I took for granted baby boomers know that Gen Y can learn a lot from us (as that is tradition). What I wanted to put out there is that we can also learn a lot from them (which often gets a “yeah, right” reaction). I have received much feedback from this piece, both in agreement and in disgust. But, what I like most about discussions such as these, is that it may make some stop for a moment to consider that perhaps they can offer us something in return. Thank you for taking the time to comment.

I really enjoyed this post. I feel like the generations are trying to overlap each other sometimes. I’ve been a major theorist about the reasonings behind the nature of the conflicts between the generations. This post greatly illustrates the new vs. old.

Great work!



Thank you for taking time to read my post and comment. I, too, am interested in seeing how the mult-generation workforce interacts as baby boomers are shifted into a reverse mentoring role — since Gen Y are experts with technology and that is where marketing efforts are being focused.

Consider joining the LinkedIn group “Managing a Multi-Generational Workforce” if you are not already a member. I think you’ll find that interesting.

All the best to you in your career, Julia

Actually, it is a two way street. I am coaching both baby boomers and Gen Y. The baby boomers need to learn about social media and how to communicate and connect with the Gen Y group.

The Gen Y group needs to learn to communicate in appropriate ways to the other generational groups in the workplace. We have 4-5 generations in the workplace now and each has different expectations of what is acceptable workplace behavior and dynamics.

Each has something to offer.

Marc Miller

Hi Marc:

I agree with you that learning is a two-way street. It is important for we, as baby boomers, to recognize this and that it is no longer only the younger generation learning from the older one.

Thank you for taking time to comment.

Best to you, Julia

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