The workplace is about to get less crowded. Each day, 10,000 Baby Boomers turn 65 and are eligible to retire. With 56 percent in leadership positions, corner offices will soon have vacancies, and experts say Millennials are in a prime position to take control--if they tap into the wisdom of Baby Boomers before they leave.

"If you look at the data, it's absolutely staggering what we're about to experience," says Dan Bursch, program director of MBA@UNC. "By 2030, 71 million people in the Boomer work force will be 65 or older. What makes it fascinating for the Millennial generation is that while they seem different than Boomers, research shows that the two groups look for strikingly similar things in a career."

Both Boomers and Millennials make career choices based on challenging work, competitive compensation, opportunities for advancement, and work-life balance, according to a study done by UNC Kenan-Flagler Business School.

It's the differences that give the younger generation an advantage. Millennials are tech savvy and data driven, while Boomers have mastered the softer skills needed for success, such as relationship building, management, and strategic thinking. To become the superleaders of tomorrow, Millennials should seek out Boomer mentors to learn their special skill set, adding this knowledge to their own strengths.

The Perfect Combination

"With Boomer mentors, Millennials can develop a full arsenal of skill sets," says Bursch. "At the end of the day, these two groups of workers are looking for the same things, and the natural synergy will push the mentor relationship to be successful."

Millennials should look to gain information on two levels--macro and micro, says Bursch. On the macro level, Millennials should ask Boomers questions about the more intuitive skills they've used over the course of their careers, such as:

  1. What were the key things you did to advance your career?
  2. How do you face tough decisions?
  3. What were some of your most important business relationships, and how did you build them over the course of your career?
  4. How did you develop trust in your employees?
  5. How do you engage your staff?
  6. Tell me about a project in which you had to solve a problem without big data--how did you come up with a solution?

On a micro level, Millennials should ask questions that are specific to the organization, such as:

  1. What are some challenges our company needs to address?
  2. What are our company's strengths, and how would my skills fit in?
  3. What are some projects on the horizon that may need more staffing?
  4. What is the typical path for growth within our company?
  5. What are the skills most valued here?

"Learning these strategies and approaches will make a Millennial a more complete employee," says Bursch.

Think Outside Your Department

While Millennials can find a Boomer mentor within their own department, Bursch says cross-functional mentoring has distinct advantages: Millennials become exposed to different parts of a business, they receive well-rounded advice, and a company grows its talent pool for filling future positions.

In fact, tapping into Boomers' knowledge should be front and center for every organization, says Bursch. Whether in a structured program created by a company or an informal situation in which Millennials seek out advice on their own, the idea of Boomers mentoring Millennials is valuable for everyone involved.

"Millennials will learn skills to get ahead, and companies will remain financially viable," says Bursch. "And Boomers help secure their pensions, which hinge on the continued success of the organization."

Learning directly from a leader will help Millennials understand what it takes to effectively lead. But time is of the essence.

"There can't help but be a brain drain, and the window to gather this knowledge is closing," says Bursch. "Millennials need to learn what they can, and Boomers need to share what they've acquired with those coming up behind them. It's a situation where everyone wins."

 

Want to learn more about the impact Boomer retirement will make? Check out MBA@UNC's "Brain Drain" infographic to learn how and when it will affect you.