Other parts of this series:
Dubbed the “me” generation, Baby Boomers followed their parents in to the workforce in unprecedented numbers as the largest generation to-date, until their Millennial grandchildren came along. Although as employees Baby Boomers demonstrate the same drive, commitment, and loyalty as their parents did, this generation was the first to chafe against traditional authority in a big way— ironically, everywhere but in the workplace. Like their parents, Baby Boomers adamantly believe in working your way up the corporate ladder, and they’ve done a great job at it. But they’re not finished yet. In my previous post, I discussed the issues and mitigating strategies brought about by the three-generation workforce. In this post, I’ll focus on what’s special about Baby Boomers.
Baby Boomers radicalized the world in the 1960’s, and are continuing that trend by radicalizing what it means to be retirement age in the 21st century. Though many Boomers are still retiring near the age their parents did, they are by no means settling into an easy chair to collect a pension. They’re creating second careers, pursuing their passions, and volunteering to support the social causes that are almost embedded in their DNA. Many Baby Boomers are continuing to work past traditional retirement age, often in the industry they’ve built their careers upon, with no plans to retire—ever.
In terms of workplace characteristics, according to a 2013 survey, Baby Boomers excel at executive leadership, are very hardworking, and enjoy helping others succeed—but they don’t do well with change. Independent and upwardly mobile, collaboration has also never been their strong suit. Much like their parents, they share the attitude that success is a reward, not an entitlement. They are proud of their accomplishments and want to continue achieving them. However, Baby Boomers can be victims of the digital divide, and often struggle to perform in an increasingly digital work environment. Change-drivers in their early years, they are at times finding themselves “outdated” and devalued by technological innovation.
Lastly, as the sages in a workplace that has experienced significant change, Baby Boomers are the keepers of legacy organisational knowledge. In part because they have witnessed so much change, Baby Boomers have a wealth of experience as well as both explicit and implicit knowledge that is extremely valuable to the organisation and cannot be replaced by technology—yet. When they retire, that knowledge and skill-set leaves with them.
Recognizing and reaping value
There are a number of steps organisations can take to make the most of the Baby Boomer end of the three-generation workplace spectrum. First of all, companies must recognise the value these employees offer and that they still have many years left to make an important contribution—just not necessarily in the same form they’ve made it in the past. Creating flexible, part-time, or consultancy-based work options for Baby Boomers is an excellent way to continue to benefit from these valuable contributors while meeting them on their terms at this stage of their lives. Alternative work options allow time for important knowledge transfer to take place, as well as provide opportunities for mentorship so that Baby Boomers can groom the next levels of leadership.
In fact, mutual mentorship between Millennials and Baby Boomers—where each generation teaches the other—can be especially productive, as Millennials are the least equipped to lead but the most experienced with digital technology. Unilever has been very successful in this effort through its mentoring programme that pairs Millennial employees with executives and board members. Cross-generational mentorship also helps break down communication barriers so the generations can see each other for who they are rather than through the lens of a stereotype. In fact, Millennials and Baby Boomers can do very well in mentoring relationships, in part because there is an inherently supportive mechanism at play in which neither generation feels threatened by the other. After all, many Baby Boomers are grandparents to Millennials. At its best, that relationship has the potential to be very nurturing.
In my next post, I’ll focus on the smallest and, from the perspective of this Gen Xer, the least understood generation: Generation X.
For more information about generational differences in the workplace, please see:
- Trend two in the Accenture Technology Vision for Insurance 2016 report – Liquid Workforce: Building the workforce for today’s digital demands
- Workforce of the Future: Dealing with change and the millennial challenge (Accenture.com)
- The 3-Generational Workplace: It’s (Really!) A Good Thing (Forbes.com)
- Forget Millennials. Gen Xers Are the Future of Work (Time.com)
- Younger managers rise in the ranks, EY study on generational shifts in the US workplace (EY.com)