When Boomers, Gen Y Collide


behavioral_ruined_small.jpgADOTAS EXCLUSIVE — As we continue to evolve as a digital world, rapidly adapting new technology, the way people interact is also changing. Verbal communication is becoming a long lost art, as is people’s comfort level with it. Sending an email, text message, or IM is quick and painless — an efficient (and seemingly safe) way of communicating while avoiding verbal confrontation, rebuttal, or the dreaded small talk.There’s time to sit in front of your electronic device and ponder a clever and witty response. Technology is enabling people to abandon common forms of traditional communication in their everyday life and at work, especially those who have grown up with technology as an accepted norm — rather than a privilege.

According to the Forrester’s July 2008 report, “State of Consumers And Technology: Benchmark 2008,” Generation Y sets the pace for technology adoption and digital, far exceeds any platform of traditional media consumed spending. In a survey of 45,315 North American online adults, people 21–-25 spend an average of 17.6 hours online per week, with 65% of that time for leisure purposes.

They use it for anything and everything — as communication, entertainment, information vehicles, you name it. And being connected has never been easier — given that this generation is already logged onto their IM, created their personal avatar, has their cell phone on at their desk, and has updated the status of their Facebook page with where they are headed to for lunch.

They are truly living their lives online.

And communities such as Second Life make it easier, as do the advent of toys like Webkinz; however, you have to wonder: What is all of this plugging in doing to their interpersonal skills? Gone are the days when children used to actually walk down the street, and knock on the neighbors’ door to see if they want to play a game of kick-the-can before dinner. And forget about getting in trouble for venturing into the sewers with the older kids (wait … was that just me?).

Perhaps there is no place where the preferred method of communication and technology is more obvious than it is at work where following up with a contact to some means sending email after email after email after email. Where do you draw the line of email as a form of communication and not the form of communication?

Working on the media side in advertising, we often negotiate large media buys on behalf of our clients. Due to the fast-pace and flexibility of interactivity, this means media buys, optimizations, and at times, cancels are done quickly to maximize results for our clients. It’s highly unlikely, however, that you’re going to get the best rate or solution to a delivery problem over email.

What I’ve learned is that a five-minute phone call can not only expedite a resolution, but can also do wonders for your professional relationships. On a given day, I average as many as 300 emails in the office, but rarely receive more than three phone calls. I will most likely respond over email, but those who call are the first that I respond to, and if is deemed necessary, a phone call will precede the email.

Nowadays, there are inter-generational relationships in the workplace as veterans and boomers are retiring later, making differences in communication styles even more apparent. Generation Y, growing up surrounded by digital media, has become a generation of expert multi-taskers — listening to the latest edition of Sports Center, IMing a friend about meeting at the gym, gathering screenshots of the latest campaign, and entering an approved plan in DoubleClick MediaVisor while at work.

It’s easy — with all of this multi-tasking going on — for one generation to look down on another. Boomers may think of Generation Y: How can they possibly be productive when they’re connected to technology at every point? And Generation Y may just wonder why Boomers haven’t jumped on the technology bandwagon yet.

There are rules of conduct one can follow to leverage oneself in the workplace and create a higher perception of marketability by looking to other generations. A handwritten note is still thoughtful when someone goes out of their way to provide a special gift or treat. A phone call is necessary when budgets are discussed to avoid confusion and rationale for changes, followed-up by an email to confirm details. However, sending media kits or insertion orders via U.S. mail or fax is not only inconvenient, it does not allow a soft copy to be saved on the shared drive and shared with peers, and it can create the illusion of an old system that needs to be updated.

At the end of the day, regardless of our generation, it’s important, particularly in the workplace, for us to learn from our generational differences and find a happy medium between recognizing the value and timing of reaching out to others via the appropriate human connections, and understanding the day-to-day importance of technological conveniences.


  1. Great article. You have to love the paradox here, considering that most of Gen-Y are the CHILDREN of baby boomers… hence, you have almost a parent-child stand-off in many ways. The irony being that the materialism of the boomers gave rise to the techno-savvy of the Gen-Y-ers.

    Of course, as a Gen-X-er who loves to watch from the middle, the dynamics only get more fascinating when one looks at how the generational values have been formulated which created both ends of the spectrum you’ve set up.

    You’re right about learning how to learn… from each other. In the end, if we play off of our strengths instead of rebutting others’ weaknesses, we’ll all be further ahead.

  2. I find it fascinating that the author here felt confident to write of generations yet skipped over (ignored) completely GenXers. It’s OK. really. See GenXers, the largest of any extant generation, though few believe it, do just fine when no one pays us any mind. Heck, we’re so occupied taking care of messes few others are unwilling to face that we’re plenty busy anyway.

  3. […] Amy Manus over at Adotas concurs. Our over-exposure to digital media has left Y-ers struggling to grapple with the concept of face-to-face communication. We’re so used to having the time to formulate witty responses in the stasis of cyberspace that we find ourselves outpaced in real time conversation, where we are unable to hide behind the relative safety of the backspace key and ‘BRB’. Some of us even struggle to make eye-contact when conversing with colleagues. Yikes! […]

  4. Recently in a Harvard Business Review Podcast they speak of generation gaps in the office environment, but with a slightly different spin. When the Boomers are at the C-Level, X-er’s are in Middle Management and Y-er’s are entry level things get really interesting. The point they make is that Boomers love the Gen-Y perspective because (unlike their managers in Gen X), if Gen-Y’ers have a question – they won’t follow protocol; rather they will go directly to the source (their Boomer CEO) and ask the question. This apparently infuriates their Gen X manager, but flatters their Boomer CEO. Either way you slice it – Gen – Y is shaking up the way we do business.

  5. Generation Y’ers can be techno-fixated to the point of stupidity. I once caught one of my Gen-Y employees sending an email to the guy sitting next to him rather than simply speaking to him. It’s plain to me supervising them that “multi-tasking” is a joke. They are not switching their full intelligence from task to task, they are simply dividing it amongst the tasks, resulting in each task being done with about the same intelligence as I could get from a wet sponge.

  6. As a Millennial myself I think that one of the greatest challenges facing my generation is a loss of human contact. I believe the dehumanization of many tasks has left my generation feeling very isolated and alone. While we as a generation are very open about our actions, many of us do not discuss our deepest feelings because many of our friendships are the superficial kind (think the 700 or so friends we usually have on Facebook or MySpace).

    From a generational standpoint, many young professionals would like to have an older mentor figure, but too often do not find our older co-workers very open to our ways or ideas. Many older workers do not see the point in spending time with us because they themselves are so busy.

    The older workers are not all too blame; I know of plenty of young professionals that look down on their older counterparts, but both generations I have so much to learn from each other that I do not understand why it happens so infrequently. Companies who can bridge this gap between the older and younger workforces will see both productivity and profitability gains.


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