When I first started Inspirion nearly 20 years ago, my mission was to help young and seasoned professionals work effectively together. Back then, it was common to hear seasoned professionals dismiss the younger generation as “lazy, entitled, and unwilling to pay their dues.” In fairness, the young professionals of 20 years ago were unknowingly asking a bit much from a generation whose career and sense of value was often built on the time they devoted to work. 

As promised, pensions failed to materialize and health problems soared for the veterans and boomers, generations X and the millennials commanded better balance, among other things. Given the sacrifices made by the previous generations, the war between generations in the workforce surged, leading to drastic decreases in productivity, collaboration, and engagement. Rather than dealing with the underlying issues that lead to disengagement, many companies simply opted to add turnover to their bottom-line costs. 

What a profound realization it was for me to witness the wasted potential in the constant contention and strife between generations, with little willingness to harness that energy for the benefit of all. Motivated to bridge the generational gap, I wrote my first book, “From Boomers To Bloggers,” which serves as a practical guide for teams seeking to enhance collaboration across generations. 

Over the first decade of my career, it became evident that leaders and teams who approached disagreements with curiosity and clarity reaped remarkable rewards: increased trust, heightened accountability, superior products and services, and significantly elevated levels of engagement. In contrast, those leaders who stubbornly clung to the notion that “these younger professionals should know better” missed out on these invaluable opportunities to build trust, and consequently loyalty. 

Recently, while at a networking event, I had the opportunity to hear some of the new language being used by the young professionals of 20 years ago—today’s seasoned professionals.:) The room buzzed with frustration as one lady exclaimed, “These damn young professionals! They want to feel safe…” Her sentiment was echoed by another woman who added, “Work isn’t about feeling safe, it’s about working. Just do your damn job!” A third woman chimed in condescendingly, “Ohhhh you poor little babies… You want to feel safe. Nobody cared about my psychological safety. Get over it and get to work.” 

And there it was, a profound realization dawned on me. It is undeniably difficult to desire something for others, or even comprehend how to provide it, when we did not have the privilege of experiencing it ourselves. We often unconsciously repeat the same approach we endured: using criticism as a misguided tool for motivation. Recently, I found myself caught in a cycle of criticism, gripped by the stark contrast between my own upbringing and the incredible levels of protective, supportive, and encouraging parenting displayed by my friends and colleagues. A sense of envy subconsciously gnawed at me, resulting in undue criticism, and consequently an apology. Ahhh… This is a human thing! 

Mesmerized by the strong language and agitation within this group at the networking event I attended, I listened closely. It was then that Dan, a seasoned professional, found his way into the conversation. Frustration laced his words as he lamented, “No matter how hard I try, they still will not pick up the phone and call the damn customer! It doesn’t matter how many times I tell them, they keep using text and email to communicate.” 

Curious, I asked Dan why it is so important that they use the phone to communicate. Dan’s response was immediate, frustration mingled with urgency as he explained, “My customers are not getting the quality of service they need. Competition in our industry is tough, and the future of our business is at stake.” 

Eager to delve deeper, I probed further, asking if he had experienced firsthand the power of personal interaction in achieving desired outcomes. “Have you ever had the experience of creating a much-needed outcome because you picked up the phone or showed up in person to talk with your customer?” I asked. Without hesitation, Dan affirmed, “Yes, absolutely. Most of my success has come from showing up in person and understanding what my clients truly need.” 

“Interesting,” I said, “have you ever shared those stories with them?” 

“No,” he said, “I don’t have time for all of that. I need them to just do their job the way I tell them to do it.” 

Relentlessly committed to helping bridge the communication gap, I asked about how he might benefit from their willingness to pick up the phone, embody a strong sense of ownership, and exhibit an unyielding dedication to the long-term prosperity of his company. With anticipation, I asked him, “How might you benefit from their proactive engagement and steadfast commitment?” 

“The constant struggle of being mired in operational minutiae and handling never-ending customer complaints will stop. I’ll be able to redirect my energy towards propelling our company to greater heights,” he said, exhaling.   

As Dan’s frustration lingered in the air, another woman interjected, halting his discomfort and possibly obstructing a potentially transformative conversation. She exclaimed, “These young professionals need to toughen up!” 

Maybe. Probably. But also — the very behaviors that annoy most seasoned professionals serve as a leverage point for the leaders who find a way to help their young professionals succeed regardless of their limitations. Few leaders know how to benefit from these pouty young professionals who perceivably want everything handed to them—who want to be coddled, to create their own schedule, need help managing their mental health, and to have immediate access to upward mobility and meaningful work. 

It’s an undeniable truth that many young professionals today lack crucial communication skills, patience, and a clear understanding of how to forge a successful career and establish a good reputation. It is the same problem, recycled from generation to generation because we tend to forget what it was like for us when we came into the workforce. This is precisely why I believe it’s crucial to address the concept of generational amnesia when discussing generational differences. We tend to forget just how inexperienced we once were and how much we would have valued guidance during those early stages. 

While each generation faces its own distinct hurdles, the underlying data consistently reveals that, at their core, all generations desire the same fundamental things. It’s just that we express these desires in different ways. To bridge the gap between generations and create meaningful progress, it is imperative that we shift our focus from unproductive criticism to constructive coaching. When we invest in their growth and support their advancement, we create mutually beneficial relationships.

Here’s to your greatness,
Misti Burmeister

Misti Burmeister helps companies and leaders motivate and inspire excellence. For nearly 20 years, she has facilitated communication that results in trust, increasing engagement and productivity across generations. Make sure your communication is coming across the way you intend, visit https://www.MistiBurmeister.com