3 things Baby Boomers should know about working with millennials

Millennials are becoming a force in the professional world. Baby Boomers, heed these tips to better collaborate with them in the workplace.

During the past 14 months, I’ve had more millennial clients than I did members of the Baby Boomer and Silent generations. Very quickly, wealth, influence and power shifted to those between 18 and 34 years old.

The good news is that millennials demand the experience and expertise of top names in ghostwriting and speechwriting. They want those of us with a track record for producing books, articles, editorials, blog posts, online videos and speeches that have gotten noticed.

The bad news is that for most of us Baby Boomers, this is a new target market we have to struggle to understand. I’ve made my share of mistakes.

Because the millennials who are succeeding are doing it big, they are a group we want to write for. They are where the action, money and transferable knowledge are.

Here’s what I’ve learned:

Millennials aren’t homogeneous.

Some millennials are conservative in their style and thinking, and some are on the edge in everything. We have to ask explicitly about tone, organization, content and language, and then we have to run a small sample by them. During a project, it’s smart to keep running pieces by them to ensure you are on track.

Millennials are usually group oriented.

There are no absolutes, but unlike power figures from previous generations, the members of this generation tend to make decisions in groups. For content reviews, I’ve walked into rooms of 20-somethings, many of whom had strong opinions. Instead of perceiving this as an ambush, the productive approach is to question their assumptions. Then explain the implications in detail. For example, if they want to use profanity, point out the possible alienation of the three generations who can be markets for their ideas.

Millennials have to make their own mistakes.

Suffering is a teacher. From following Tech Crunch, we bear witness to all the lessons millennial entrepreneurs could be learning. It’s our responsibility to alert young clients to disaster.

There was one marketing communications expert who had had a few quick hits at the starting gate, but it wasn’t enough to build a national presence. Yet this relative newbie was determined to invest money in copy to put on influential forums. It wasn’t going to work, I warned. And it didn’t.

Next we have to drop our role as guides. Millennials are the client and have a perfect right to fail. That’s the way it has always been, hasn’t it?

Millennials can have sharp tongues.

Youth has its own rhetorical style. For Baby Boomers, it was the mantra of freedom. We tossed slogans at parents, professors, government officials and corporate executives. Then that was that; we adopted the rhetoric of professional life.

The wise among those on the receiving end of our activist stances probably didn’t take it personally. The book “The Four Agreements” by Don Miguel Ruiz elegantly presents the idea of insulating oneself from all that. In essence, Ruiz recommends you just blow it off.

Those who currently only serve those 40 and older may wake up one day and find themselves out of touch. What they produce won’t resonate. As brutal as the learning curve can be when working with millennials, it has been on the money. The analogy is getting digital communications down cold. It’s a must for professional survival.

Jane Genova is an executive and marketing communications pro. A version of this article originally appeared on her blog.

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