In April 2016, millennials - who have been turning the workplace into uncharted territory ever since they started earning paychecks - officially surpassed baby boomers as America's largest generation (Pew Research).

Given that these two significantly different generations will need to co-exist in the workplace for some time to come, it is imperative for them to successfully work together to further company goals.

Here are six critical differences between the mindsets of these two (equally remarkable) generations that a certified HR team can help managers navigate:

1. Boomers want a job; millennials want a career.

The typical boomer resume looks considerably different from that of the millennial. According to a 2016 Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research study, 40 percent of boomers had stayed with one company for over 20 years.

Not so much millennials, as Natasha Bowman, JD, SPHR, Founder & CEO of Performance ReNEW, points out. "Millennials are known to bounce around from organization to organization, especially if they don't see an opportunity for immediate growth."

This can have significant ramifications for the company, as boomers will be less inclined to share their institutional knowledge with their millennial colleagues (why bother sharing with someone who won't be around long enough to use it?)

HR can step up to make sure the organization has, and communicates clearly about, career growth opportunities.

"This will help you retain millennial employees longer, as well as help to bridge the knowledge gap between the two generations," says Bowman.

2. "You Talkin' To Me?" For millennials, feedback is the name of the game; boomers, not so much.

Bowman points out that boomers typically advanced in the workplace with little-to-no feedback. "At most, they've gotten used to and are ok with an annual performance review."

Millennials, on the other hand, require constant feedback, particularly when it comes to accomplishing major milestones.

How can HR bridge the gap? "Give feedback often," says Bowman. "Although boomers may not be used to it, they certainly won't turn it down."

And, she says, this will also mitigate the "element of surprise" when, during the evaluation conversation, employees hear they're not meeting expectations for the first time.

3. While both boomers and millennials face increasingly tough job markets, they deal with this challenge in remarkably different ways.

According to a 2016 survey by CareerBuilder, 29 percent of workers now have a side gig, and millennials significantly outpace other generations when it comes to multiple sources of income: 44 percent of those aged 25-34, and 39 percent of those aged 18-24.

And it didn't matter whether or not their primary jobs paid well; the survey found that 12 percent of those making over $100,000 still had a side hustle.

Rewarding entrepreneurship and creativity can make a significant difference in keeping millennial workers - for whom flexibility is important - happy. And it can encourage boomers to see creativity as enhancing their 9 to 5, not taking away from it.

4. Millennials want to live and work globally. Boomers just want to work.

Thanks to their globally connected upbringing, more and more millennials want to work and live the same way. Boomers, on the other hand, tend to be content at home.

In "NextGen," its 2013 global generational study conducted in conjunction with the University of Southern California and the London Business School, PWC found that "more millennials (37%) view the opportunity to work overseas as part of their desired career path than their non-millennial counterparts (28%)."

Offering a mix of local as well as international opportunities to employees will keep both generations happy.

5. Millennials may know digital, but boomers know the business.

This may sound like a cliché, but the fact is, millennials grew up with digital as a native language, while boomers had to learn digital as a second language. Like any language, the native speakers tend to have an advantage.

That's not to say, though, that many boomers haven't mastered social as business tool.

Non-profit volunteer marketer, Stephanie L. Haack, who retired as a 3M Global Communications Manager notes, "Younger people react with surprise when they learn I managed social media (Twitter, Facebook) for an arts organization."

While much of business is digitally driven today, industry knowledge, experience, personal networks and education remain essential tools for a business leader. Such knowledge and experience can be passed on to the millennial generation through mentorship efforts.

The solution? Lunch-and-learns for each generation to showcase their virtual smarts can help build "IRL" bridges.

6. "That's the way it's always been done" doesn't cut it with millennials.

Brought up to follow rules, boomers tend to accept the status quo, while secretly resenting it. Not so with millennials.

Gallup's 2016 How Millennials Want to Work and Live report found that millennials want businesses to adjust the customer experience to their needs. Else they'll move on.

As alien as this can feel to rule-following boomers, it ultimately benefits them as well, as businesses start to offer more work-live benefits to all.

At the end of the day, just how critical are these generational differences in the workplace?

Suzanne Turner of turner4D, who has hired boomers, Gen X'ers and millennials for her digital marketing firm, sums it up:

"We all work better together if we treat each other with mutual respect. We each have something to learn from the other."

Published on: Sep 19, 2017