Millennials vs. Baby Boomers: Not the Debate We Should Be Having

A recent CI column pitting Millennials versus Baby Boomers in the workplace, discussed on AV Nation’s AV Week, stirred a lot of emotions.

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Watch AV Nation's AV Week episode 294, "Audio as an Afterthought."

A column posted on Commercial Integrator, “The Problem Isn’t with Millennials, It’s with Old People in the Workplace” by Westbury National’s Brock McGinnis, triggered some emotional responses.

It was discussed during an episode of AV Nation’s AV Week, hosted by Tim Albright. I had the pleasure of being a guest on that episode along with McGinnis and InfoComm’s Rachel Bradshaw.

At the 7:55 mark, Albright offers his perception of the column. I offer my take on it, including my sense that much of the negative reaction to the article stems from the headline I wrote versus the words McGinnis wrote. Most importantly, McGinnis explains how he intends the column and addresses others interpretations of it. “I’ll write slower next time!”

The AV Week discussion (and the column, by the way) was all in good fun. It’s interesting, however, that the topic unleashed so many emotions.

Reactions to a Column, and a Headline

Some readers were pretty angry at McGinnis. These readers had several issues with the column.

Questioning McGinnis’ Point of View

Brock, what a completely disconnected irresponsible progressive liberal response you provided. Millennials ARE in fact a problem, or if you prefer a “point-at-issue”.

Millennials Are, in Fact, the Problem

Companies all across the country are rapidly reworking their HR programs to cope with the unique challenges millennials present. While it’s also true the some older employees and management are slow to adapt to change (new technologies, processes, methods) it is not 100% incumbent on the existing workforce to cater to the millennials.

Baby Boomers Took It Personally

I am 68 years old. I go to work every day starting at somewhere between 6 and 8 AM and finally retire somewhere between 7 and 11 PM. Every day. Don’t tell me I get in the way.

I cannot find many young people willing to put in the time and effort to learn the trade and do the work.

Some Took It Personally … and Creatively

I Aspire every day to do a better job then I did yesterday.
I Aspire to Inspire the younger people I interact with to do a better job than I did today, or yesterday.
I Aspire to learn something new everyday to improve my skills and to be of more value to my employer, and the other employees around me.
I Aspire to get there earlier and make one more call on the way home.
… Respect is earned, as is everything else of value.
You want it? Work for it!
If you think I, and the other Aspiring Old Guys and Gals are stepping aside because you think you are entitled to it, you need to think again.
Aspire to Grow up Buttercup.

Nobody Likes Being Generalized

As an older person, I take exception to this diatribe. Yeah, we have shortcomings. But we are people, too and everyone has some shortcomings. Ane maybe we are stuck in our ways. But sometimes, we have the wisdom to see what damage too much innovation can cause. Sometimes, perhaps more times than any of us are willing to admit, the ‘old’ way is the better way. A slightly out-of-date system that works consistently, efficiently and reliably is better than a system that has to have the ‘the current big thing’ as part of it, and does not function consistently, efficiently or reliably.

[or]

As a member of the now senior sect, who came up through the ranks when A/V meant filmstrip and slide projectors, I still start early. I still work into the evening. I still have incredibly good contacts throughout the country and I bloody well understand the technology and how it’s integrated into unique solutions to create indelible impressions on weak-minded millennials. Oh, I work with some incredibly talented and gifted millennials, too, and the things I learn from them could fill a cup…. or two. Maybe.

Some readers praised McGinnis. The column seemed to speak to these readers.

Some Millennials Took It Personally

I am a millennial, and I have been the last person to leave the office on countless occasions. I don’t want an award for this, a raise or even acknowledgement. I want to get the job done and done well. When working in majority millennial environments, I have toiled well into the night with my numerous dedicated millennial co-workers who have had strong commitment to getting things right. Many of my millennial colleagues and friends have a fire and a passion and are committed to doing lots of great work, and working hard.

Count me, editor of Commercial Integrator, among those praising the column. You can also “blame” me for much of the criticism of it.

When McGinnis submitted his column his suggested title was, “The Problem with Old People.” We ran with that in the printed edition of the magazine.

Online, however, there is an opportunity to do more with article titles. I wanted to frame McGinnis’ extremely unique take on the integration industry’s labor challenges against what I see as the default explanation of it: It’s difficult for this industry to recruit Millennials.

In McGinnis’ actual article he only lightly alludes to Millennials while referencing InfoComm’s and NSCA’s efforts to recruit young professionals into the industry:

I think both associations are barking up the wrong tree. Our problem isn’t too few young people. Our problem is too many old people, most of whom show no signs of heading for the doors anytime soon.

It’s hardly an endorsement of Millennials.

The article isn’t about Millennials versus Baby Boomers. It’s about our industry’s unique personnel challenges that include incestuous hiring practices and path-of-least-resistance hiring decisions.

Most of the criticism of McGinnis seems not to be reacting to the words he wrote, but to the headline. That’s on me … sort of.

About the Author

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Tom has been covering electronics integration since 2003. Prior to being named editor-in-chief of CI, he was senior writer and managing editor of CE Pro. Before that, he wrote for the sports department of the Boston Herald. Migrating to magazines, he was a staff editor for a golf publication and an outdoor sports publication.

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Comments

  • The AV Analyst says:

    While I appreciate your editorial above, I think you glaze over a very real ageism that millennials feel they receive from other generations just because they work in a different manner. The successful millennials (please note the adjective) often take issue with the stereotypes, even if they fit the stereotype, because their success is what should be a judgement of their work, not necessarily other factors that are always applied to the millennial generation. I walk the line between Gen X and Millennial. I have traits of both. And I can relate to both.

    But what frustrates me? We’ve been having this talk for the last 10 years of my 15 year professional career. Are we going to continue the discussion for the next 15 years or are we going to take steps and make strides? That is going to require a change in mindset by all generations, including Millennials, but also the Boomers, to negotiate and develop success on common ground.

    Otherwise, this argument is looking more and more like passing a bill through congress. Eventually, the Millennials will adapt and will also continue to change the way business is done. Business will demand it as the other generations exit the workforce. So do we want this to continue on for that long?

    Instead, let’s embrace the purpose of Brock’s article. I believe we need to break down those barriers between generations so that the Millennial generation can learn from the Boomers and GenXers. The last thing a Millennial wants is to be dictated what to do. And they despise being told “who” or “what they are or “how” they are acting. We heard it our whole childhood. We’re different. Accept it.

    To the Millennial readers, we often act like children. That needs to stop. The whining, the inability to make early morning meetings, the complaints that you’re not being listened to… we have tasks that need to get done.

    So how do we bridge the gap? Do we need a Generational G-8 Summit? I’ve been through countless of these over the last decade at every single conference. That’s not working because the generations continue to be stubborn (all generations).

    By the way, Gen Z is entering the workforce in the next couple of years. Perhaps we should square things away with the “GenY Problem” before all three of us start criticizing their work ethic…?

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