Younger and older generations learn to bridge gaps
‘The challenge will be who adapts to whom’

By Katherine Michalets - Freeman Staff

May 31, 2015

 Jenna Haertle, a personal lines service agent, left, talks with Dan Wolfgram, executive vice president for personal lines and Marketing on Friday at R&R Insurance in Waukesha.     
Charles Auer/Freeman Staff

Working with several employees of the millennial generation has had many more ups than downs, said Dan Wolfgram of R&R Insurance. As the executive vice president of personal line, marketing and communications for the family owned Waukesha insurance company, Wolfgram said millennials are quick to adapt and learn.

“They have the ability to multi-task,” he said. “They are not looking to do a traditional job.”

Others who have worked with millennials have said there is a deeper chasm between baby boomers and the youngest working generation.

Getting to know millennials

Carol White, president of the Greater Brookfield Chamber of Commerce, said she doesn’t think the older generations understand the millennials — who are generally thought of as being born in the 1980s and 1990s.

She said it’s important for the different generations to understand each other, especially with baby boomers staying in the workforce longer.

“It’s being willing to sit down and have a conversation where we sit down and take out preconceived notions, our beliefs, park them and have an open dialogue,” she said. Paul Decker, Waukesha County chairman and cofounder and executive director of the Maverick Lab, said he hears different challenges from older generations working with millennials, such as different work expectations. But millennials bring many skills to the workplace, such as being technology savvy and optimistic.

“They definitely believe, for the most part, there are ways to get things done that are different than what has been done traditionally,” he said.

When a millennial considers the digital world, Decker said, to them it’s a natural part of the larger world and is not an adjunct. They are also conscious of not letting work take over their lives.

“Life-work balance is real important. They’ll work hard but they have to know there is a good end game,” Decker said.

It’s Decker’s observation that most of the people who are savvy and have had some kind of education or training after high school are looking for employers who can build their skills in order for them to eventually be able to move on to the next thing.

“The challenge will be who adapts to whom,” Decker said.

Learning to communicate

Millennials even tend to communicate differently, Decker said, adding that younger workers often strive to improve their communication capabilities and to learn how to network outside of the Internet.

Wolfgram said he’s watched millennials learn how to tweak their communication style to be in sync with the clients, whether that is with emailing, texting or calling.

Brett Guendel, a millennial financial advisor for Waddell & Reed, said working at a company with different generations of clients and employees has resulted in him using a variety of communication methods.

Guendel recently took on the role of chair for the Greater Brookfield Chamber of Commerce Summit Young Professionals group, which had become defunct. White reached out to Guendel to take on that role after he actively attended networking groups.

Many millennials don’t like attending the more structured networking events, whether that’s because they find it intimidating or they don’t want to meet people in the older age groups. Guendel said he would like to hold monthly meetings with them, alternating between a social event at a bar or sporting event, and an educational program. Perhaps twice a year, he’d also like for the different age groups to all attend one get-together.

When it comes to communicating with clients, Jenna Haertle, a personal lines service agent for R&R Insurance, said she prefers email or whatever is the fastest way to get work done.

Communicating with the previous generations has not been problematic for Haertle, although she said some topics like social media may need more explaining.

She said she has learned how to be more patient.

“Patience is a virtue. Sometimes I forget people have a hard time navigating technology,” she said. Working with millennials may also require a different approach. White said for those entrenched in the “old way” responding to a question of why a task is done a certain way by saying, “it’s always been that way,” will not fly with the millennials.

Defining work

White said millennials grew up knowing how to operate a computer and to be mobile with their learning while previous generations were raised that you go to the office each day to do work and then return home.

“Their mindset is we can do work everywhere; why do we have to be in the office,” White said of millennials.

Guendel agreed that millennials want the option to work partly from home, whether that’s a whole day or certain hours of the day. A popular concept with the younger workforce is flex hours, which requires them to be in the office during key times, but then as long as they get the rest of their work done they can work whenever they want.

For the older workers, staying an extra hour or two may be looked highly upon, but for many millennials sacrificing time with family and friends is not worth it, Guendel said.

Millennials are accustomed to working in groups versus independently, White said, and are skilled in garnering information by pulling from every source possible to get an answer.

Decker said they also want the correct answer. If a manager gives them inaccurate information and the millennial does an online search to discover that it’s wrong, that manager will lose credibility with the millennial.


White said her chamber previously held a workplace seminar on working with other generations and how to understand them, and is looking at holding a similar seminar in the future.

Decker cautions employers about remaining set in their ways.

“I would warn employers than they if they are not willing to do a bit of adapting to this group,” he said, “they may be hiring some people in this age group but they won’t be hiring the best.”