Are Millennials From Mercury and Boomers From Pluto?

People love categorization. For some odd reason, they find great pleasure in comparing things -- especially other people.
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By Jim Finkelstein with Melissa Mead

If you are a reader of blogs and articles about the workplace, you will note that articles are all about "Tips for managing Millennials," "The Millennials are coming," "How the Millennials are going to change the world." Opposite there are articles about "Are Boomers still relevant," "When are the Boomers going to get with it" and "Maybe it's time we Baby Boomers step aside."

In fact, most articles are focused on generational differences and how radically different the world will be once Millennials inherit the earth. And those Boomers -- boy, are they out of it. Makes it seem that Millennials must be from Mercury and the Boomers from the other side of our galaxy and must be from Pluto.

But wait a minute. Pluto is no longer a planet, so that can't be the case.

Here We Go Again with Stereotypes

People love categorization. For some odd reason, they find great pleasure in comparing things -- especially other people.

Let's be honest for a minute. All too often we do more comparing than contrasting. But why is that? Is it perhaps more fun to point out the negatives? It's no surprise that society has a reputation for bringing differences to the surface when it should really be honing in on similarities.

Case in point: the Boomer generation vs. the Millennial generation. Two completely different species of people, right? Wrong! In fact, it's almost frightening how similar the two groups are to one another, despite the fact that people keep insisting that we're from completely different planets altogether.

Hiding the years that separate the two generations isn't an easy task. But time and time again, we realize that age is nothing but a number, and stereotypes tend to be nothing but hoaxes. It's no mystery that we grew up eras apart from one another. Our minds are practically siblings derived from the same womb of thought.

And just for the record, youth is not necessarily wasted on the young... and you can certainly teach all dogs new tricks! After all, isn't 60 the new 40?

We present for your consideration five areas of stereotypical differences that are rapidly becoming mashed-up similarities between the generations.

1. Tech-Savvy Reputation? Huh?

The first big "difference" people shoot for when comparing Boomers and Millennials seems to be the tech-savvy-ness that Millennials were supposedly born with, and that Boomers supposedly lack.

The only real difference, however, is that Millennials grew up playing around with today's technology in the sandbox. Needless to say, they got a head start! Just because Boomers weren't surrounded by today's technologies from the moment they exited the womb, hardly means they haven't been able to become just as tech-savvy as Millennials are perceived to be.

Benchmark studies now show that 46- to 64-year-olds now spend more money on technology than any other age group. Media surveys show that an estimated 66 percent of Boomers use text messaging to stay in touch. And if that isn't a wake up call, the average social media user today is above forty years of age! Go figure.

2. Put it in My Savings Account... Or Please Pay Down My Debt

For whatever reason, Millennials seem to be the ones to get harped on about saving money or paying off debt.

Perhaps youth attracts an image of irresponsibility and ill preparedness for the real world. But why people assume the Millennial generation knows little about financial savings, or investing their earnings is a whole other ball game.

Millennials have actually have been saving at an unprecedented rate. And today's Boomers are also now finally aboard the savings train desperately trying to catch up for time lost with limited savings. Despite criticism from their elders, some might say that Millennials have more of a knack for putting their money into savings at an earlier age thanks to economic challenges during the last decade. Not only are they learning by their parents' example (or lack thereof) but also they're literally learning the value of a dollar through experience. Boomers have been aboard the savings train for a much longer ride. But they tend to not dawdle when it comes to stashing away savings. And it makes sense, because they're hoping to soon do a little something called "retire."

Obviously, most Millennials aren't quite thinking of retiring just yet, but it's something that definitely creeps into the back of everyone's mind at some point.

And for those of all generations, if there is no money to save, there is still a ton of debt to pay off - homes, college accounts, and loans to pay for survival for the Boomers and student loans for the Millennials not fortunate enough to have Mom and Dad absorb the burden of college.

3. Inventors and Entrepreneurs - Bridging the Age Gap

Everyone knows about the Mark Zuckerbergs and the handful of sub-30-aged kids who have graced Forbes' attention. But in truth, there are only a handful of them.

The truth is that, yes, more and more youngsters are popping up in the inventive and entrepreneurial world. But we're all getting older. One day, as the world keeps turning and only time will tell, the number of companies sparked by Millennials will certainly catch up with, and perhaps even surpass those started by Boomers.

As far as general entrepreneurship is concerned, according to a fairly recent article in Forbes Magazine, it's quite apparent that despite dark economic times, we keep seeing young success stories accompanied by the launching of world-changing companies by the purported old retreads. In fact, there are an equal number of companies being funded by VCs for both Millennials and Boomers.

4. Unemployment Knows no Age; and neither does Under-employment . . .

That's the beauty (and demise) of the workforce. We've all worked that job where there's the co-worker who's older than the manager. You've also worked alongside the college student who has class on alternate Wednesdays, and then there's another guy who has three degrees from Yale and could be supposedly doing something much better with his life.

At one point or another, people of all ages get sucked into the real world, and have to muster up a game plan.

We weather bouts of unemployment, success, unusual situations where we might even be over-qualified for certain positions. It's all variable and ever changing. But the interesting thing here is that age is truly insignificant. It's oddly poetic, but it's the truth. Workers in all generations could gather around the campfire and hold hands on this one, because they constantly deal with the same issues, regardless of age. Unemployed, underemployed, unhappy.

5. The Socially Conscious Wanting to Change the World.... Can you say Vietnam and Iraq in the same breath?

Just for a moment, let's check our egos at the door. We all secretly want to change the world. Even if it is in the slightest of ways. We want to somehow put our imprint out there. Something that will survive us and continue to make a difference long after we're gone. This is not something new that is just in the domain of the Millennials.

The Love Generation and the Me Generation both have strong socially conscious compasses... from organic sustainable farming to climate change to ending hunger. Every generation has aspired to make better that which has come before them. It is human nature -- to change, to fix, to leave the campground cleaner then when we got there.

Oh, yes, and each generation still seek the nirvana of happiness - that somehow elusive work-life balance. Where family time matters, renewing one's energy is important, and where we have time to give back or pay it forward.

Why Does it Matter, Anyway?

Think about this: At 49 years old, Brad Pitt stars as a young father to save the world in World War Z (2013). Wilford Brimley, at 51 years old, starred as an old grandpa in Cocoon (1985). We are becoming more similar than different.

By acknowledging the fact that we truly are one society, and not just a plethora of individuals trying to make it on our own, we've already taken a step in the right direction. The challenge is getting Boomers and Millennials to see more eye-to-eye.

Often times it feels as though everyone is only looking out for himself or herself. Why not combine the forces of the young with the experienced? Leverage the assets rather than focus on the liabilities of the inter-generational mash-up. Become a true Cogenerational Workplace ®. We'd be unstoppable.

Jim Finkelstein is the President and CEO of FutureSense, Inc. ( a consulting firm s a consulting firm specializing in the areas of organization and people. They advise their clients on how to build and sustain their human capital capacity and improve organizational performance by attracting, developing, engaging, motivating, and retaining people. Jim is the author of FUSE: Making Sense of the New Cogenerational Workplace ( published by Greenleaf Book Group in October 2011. Jim can also be followed @futuresense on Twitter. Melissa Mead is a freelance writer for FutureSense.

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