Gen Y: How to Adapt to the Baby Boomer Workplace

Everyone these days is talking about how much things are changing in the workplace. True, exciting ideas of flexibility and increased productivity and ice cream machines and treadmill desks are popping up everywhere. But some of us kids – perhaps most of us kids – have not been so fortunate (or willing) to work for the Googles of the modern world. So what is it that we face in the day-to-day grind at a baby boomer workplace, working with people who stick to old-school ideas that worked once upon a (olden) time?

Structure: We all know that old organizations like a lot of structure. Which means that your out-of-the-box thinking is probably a novel addition to the workplace status quo. Maybe it’s time to convince the people in charge that schedule flexibility and a lack-of-hierarchy is just a different kind of structure – the kind that keeps those energetic young kids around.

Culture: Employees of old organizations like things the way they are. They believe that current processes have worked well enough, and change doesn’t happen, because “that’s the way it’s always been done.” You will find that you can convince other employees not to accept things at face value. Questioning “the way things are” can bring important issues to the surface.

Beliefs: Chances are that the people making the decisions at your organization probably don’t know how to change a cover photo on Facebook. There exists a core belief that lots of experience will yield the best ideas, but you know this isn’t true. While many people may not take you seriously at first, an idea is hard to extinguish. Especially one that’s backed by a pile of research.

The fact is, this particular structure, culture, and belief model was actually quite innovative at one point in time. Only recently has the world produced an expected working environment that eats hierarchy and bureaucracy for breakfast. Which means that you, the youngest in your office, are now helping your boss open emails and print documents, being called “kid” by anyone and everyone, and receiving looks of embarrassed pity any time you suggest working outside of 9-5.


The good news: it’s probably not as bad as you think. While your superiors and coworkers may be mired down in a bog of status quo, they are probably not completely blind to current events. They probably want to start adapting to the modern world. They probably want ice cream machines and treadmill desks. And they will probably turn to you for help.

The bad news: Organizational change is hard. And it takes a really, really long time.

You can help it along. Start with the culture. Once old ideas are broken and new hypotheses have been formed, the structural changes will follow. Old employees tend to be fairly impressed with the energy and optimism of their Millennial counterparts, so capitalize on that! Show them that things can get done without a stack of paperwork. Remember to openly display your value to the organization. Once you’ve become an irreplaceable asset, those “old” folks will start to listen.


About the Author

Rebecca Miller is a recent transplant to Central California. Believing that business prowess can also be used for good, she moved to the West Coast to pursue a career in economic development. Best known for her sense of sometimes-life-threatening-adventure, a little Millennial mania, and a passion for the “Best Little City in the U.S.A.” (Fresno, CA), Rebecca hopes the thoughts shared here will resonate with people of all backgrounds and will help the world become a little more flexible.