Catching Up With Millennial Whisperer Antonio Green
Connecting Directors first introduced our readers to funeral director and author Antonio Green in April 2022. Just months before our story, Green published his first book, Talk to Me: Understanding the Millennial Mindset, which sought to help multiple-generation workforces manage and thrive despite generational differences.
Green knows a little about working with people within a wide range of age groups — especially millennials. He’s the fourth-generation funeral director and co-owner of 104-year-old family -owned James H. Cole Home for Funerals in Detroit, Michigan, where one-third of the workforce falls within the millennial category — including Green. His personal experiences inspired him to publish his first book.
“We have a big portion of Generation Xers and Baby Boomers, too,” in addition to the millennials, Green told us last year. “There are big differences in how they work. I wanted to find that center point where they can understand why millennials act the way they do.”
Talk to me, but also listen
Green’s experience and inspiration certainly stems from his work in deathcare, but his book presents theories and solutions that can be applied to any industry. Since sharing his thoughts in Talk to Me, though, Green has been a popular speaker at deathcare-specific gatherings, attracting both millennials and those who work with them. In fact, he just hosted a workshop at the 2023 National Funeral Directors Association (NFDA) International Convention & Expo. His session, Mending the Generational Divide, which was co-presented with funeral director, embalmer, and celebrant Allyse R. Worland might have surprised some attendees — especially as they looked around at who else was in the room.
“Millennials are coming to my sessions,” Green says, explaining that it’s not just the Boomers and Gen Xers who are interested in bridging the generational gap in their workplace. “They feel empowered in a public setting to stand up to the older generations and say, ‘Look, we have value. We’re your peers. Listen to us.”
Green says that all too often, listening is something that neither generation wants to do, and it’s a critical mistake in building a cohesive cohort. Younger staff, he explains, aren’t always valued by the older team members for their new ideas, while they themselves under-appreciate some of the tried-and-true “old school” methods used by experienced professionals.
Since publishing Talk to Me, Green has spent a lot of time educating both groups on finding a pathway to start these conversations — and explaining why they can be so important to maintaining a thriving business.
“After my first session [at NFDA 2022] several owners came up to me and said they were selling because they couldn’t deal with the upcoming generation,” Green says. “That was their only motivation to sell. It wasn’t about cremation or anything else. It was strictly based on the millennial generation or another upcoming generation and not being able to work with them. And I realized that, wow, this is a bigger issue than I thought.”
Collaboration is key
It’s no secret that one of the most dire and daunting issues in deathcare today is attracting and retaining employees. Green knows better than most that a portion of that problem can be traced back to the younger folks in the millennial generation, or what he refers to in his book as the “social” millennials.
“Younger millennials just aren’t as interested in the funeral industry,” he says. “They don’t even want to go into the business. Even if they have a generationally-owned family business, they don’t want any part of it. They don’t like that as a profession, we’re old-school, traditional, and slow to evolve. They don’t want to have to deal with having to drag their parents or their family along into the next phase of the industry.”
Tackling this challenge has become one of Green’s biggest passions, and he’s dedicated a bulk of his speaking engagements and consulting services to showing deathcare professionals how to painlessly advance the way they do business.
“There are things we can do to bring this industry along that don’t require a lot of headache,” he explains. “It’s just a matter of showing older generations newer ways things can be done and going from there. It also means showing the younger generation how they can help, and letting them know the industry really needs them and their ‘young blood.’”
Although Green offers one-on-one and group consultations for owners and employees struggling with generational differences, he’s also created a Facebook group where members of all ages can share ideas and opinions.
“The real value is going to come with the collaboration from across the industry, and even outside of the industry, because this isn’t just a funeral home problem,” he says. “This is everywhere. So providing an avenue for that collaboration is why I started the private Facebook group.”
Green’s best advice
Much of Green’s advice in Talk to Me is based on his real-life experiences as a millennial working in his family’s funeral home and managing the James H. Cole Legacy Foundation, a 501(c)3 organization dedicated to educating and supporting the citizens of Detroit. But he’s also gleaned a lot of insight into working with millennials by speaking to owners and employees across the country, and gauging their openness to his ideas.
“Some people think they’re willing to evolve, but when I ask them a few questions or offer a suggestion, they shut down,” he says. “They’re not really open to change. The most successful owners are going to be those who are willing to accept that things have to change, whether they like it or not.
Green admits that there’s no one-size-fits-all solution for every single scenario when it comes to older generations understanding the millennial mindset and vice versa, but he can definitely offer suggestions based on what he’s come across in his real-life research.
“They have to be willing to step outside the box a little bit,” he explains. “So, if millennials want a flexible work schedule where they can come in at 5:00 in the morning and work until noon and then come back for a few hours later in the day, or work four longer days a week and be off three, why can’t they consider that? As long as you have staff coverage then what difference does it make to the owner or the firm? The employee will appreciate that, and the owner will have a happier, more productive worker.”
Perhaps his best piece of advice for getting along with the millennial generation is realizing that they’re not as young — or immature — as you think they are.
“Older millennials are getting close to 40,” he says. “They may have grown children themselves, and they don’t want to be treated like they don’t have a say in things or that their voices aren’t being heard. I think that being open to them and letting them know they are being heard and their opinions are appreciated is important. Trying to implement their ideas would mean even more.”
Reach out to Antonio
If you missed Green’s presentation at NFDA and would like to schedule time to speak with him one-on-one to learn more, or to continue the conversation if you did attend, please reach out to him at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also pick up your own copy of Talk to Me: Understanding the Millennial Mindset on Amazon.