The Baseless Fear of Mentoring Millennials


By Zelda Jones

North Texas, USA


Baby Boomers are trickling into retirement while Millennials are surging into the work force. At the current pace it is almost certain the paths of these two disparate groups will cross in the work force. Boomers, including Project Managers, must now begin the task of passing down their vast knowledge and comprehension of their discipline to the upcoming generations.

This paper investigates the complex mentoring role the Baby Boomer Project Managers will assume when Millennials are assigned to their project. Proposed tactics for effective two way communication will be explored based on the extensive differences and surprising similarities between the Boomers and the Millennials.

Included in the paper are case studies of project management mentoring which illustrate both traditional and reverse mentoring. Some of the most productive and innovative Millennials are contrasted against Baby Boomers whose achievements set the stage for many advances being made today.

Keywords: Baby Boomer Project Manager, Baby Boomer mentor, reverse mentoring, generational communication gap, tech-savvy Millennial, Millennial-aged worker, no-collar worker, geek culture, geek culture professionalism, digital generation, digital dialect, Baby Boomer/Millennial communication, aging work force

The Fear of Mentoring

Newton’s law of motion (or inertia) states: An object at rest stays at rest and an object in motion stays in motion with the same speed and in the same direction unless acted upon by an unbalanced force. Surviving in today’s workforce is difficult enough, but add Newton’s unbalanced force – mentoring – to the equation, and the likelihood of volunteer participation in a mentoring program becomes slightly less than zero. Mentoring anyone, much less someone who is outside our comfort zones (age, gender, background, etc.) can strike fear into the hearts of even the most capable and willing people.

People are afraid of mentoring. These are actual quotes from people who were asked if they would mentor a new employee:


To read entire paper (click here)

Editor’s note: Second Editions are previously published papers that have continued relevance in today’s project management world, or which were originally published in conference proceedings or in a language other than English. Original publication acknowledged; authors retain copyright. This paper was originally presented at the 9th annual University of Texas at Dallas Project Management Symposium in Richardson, Texas, USA in August 2015. It is republished here with the permission of the authors and conference organizers.



About the Author

pmwj40-Nov2015-Jones-PHOTOZelda Jones

Texas, USA




Zelda Jones wants to live in a world where every driver on the road is courteous, business meetings are mesmerizing, and Millennials are willing to communicate without a digital device.

As a Baby Boomer Project Manager Zelda has the pleasure of sharing many of her work days with Millennials. She concedes that the millennial experience can sometimes be, well… exasperating. The communication techniques she knew back in ‘the day’ no longer apply. And, to add insult to the ‘old school’ injury, expecting a Millennial to get information by reading a stack of documentation is a tragically misguided expectation. What’s a Boomer to do?

Zelda has over 20 years of project management experience and earned her PMP in 2006. She is a 9 time presenter at the UTD Project Management Symposium. She has authored/co-authored 17 publications including international works. In trying to keep up with current Millennial trends, she can be found on Instagram tagging items with a ‘Like’ or an occasional ‘AYKM’ and making other brief comments using her alter ego jones.zelda. Contact her by email at [email protected]