What implications does the Boomer non-retirement trend have for younger generations?
We spoke recently about the apparent disinclination among the Baby Boomer generation to completely retire. Many have chosen to stay in their positions past the usual retirement age, while others have transitioned into alternative careers. While this trend has many positive effects for Baby Boomers (at least those who do so for personal fulfillment rather than financial necessity), it can have a destabilizing effect on their younger associates.
With the Boomer generation lingering in the workforce longer than their predecessors, today’s workforce encompasses a broader generational range. This comes with some obvious advantages. The Boomer generation bring years of experience, the Millennials are technological natives, and Gen X has the experience and understanding to span both worlds.
However this wide generational spread comes with difficulties as well. Each generation comes to the workforce with different experiences and expectations. And this generational culture gap can create its own types of tension. How can businesses benefit from the unprecedented range of experience without exacerbating generational divides?
Providing space for Gen X to take the stage.
Perhaps the answer should begin with the generation most overlooked in our current cultural discourse about generational change. Gen X, who were born somewhere in the mid-60’s through mid-80’s, have been largely absent from many of the recent cultural discussions. This is in part due to their demographic size.
The Boomers constituted the second largest generation in American history, only to be surpassed by their children—the Millennials. Caught between these two large, and very vocal, groups, Gen X is sometimes lost in the back-and-forth.
And yet, Gen X are currently in the prime of their careers. They were the first to come of age and witness, sometimes through their parents and later for themselves – the broken psychological contract. And their advance has coincided with the technological explosion that accompanied the emergence of the Internet. As a group, they are uniquely positioned to understand the concerns of both Boomers and Millennials. Socially, this positions them to be particularly effective leaders.
However, taking full advantage of their experience will require Boomers to allow the Gen X to fulfill their leadership potential and assume the senior most roles in organizations. Companies can facilitate this shift by creating advisory roles, or positions that focus on outreach rather than leadership. Those that fail to provide an opportunity for Gen X to lead are likely to lose that talent to organizations that recognize their unique position.
Millennials have different expectations, but they still prioritize opportunity.
Both the Boomer and Gen X generations struggle with Millennial expectations about advancement. One of the complaints most often heard from these generations about Millennials is that they don’t seem to want to wait their turn. They seem to expect to enter an organization and become senior vice president within five years.
In the post-psychological-contract world, particularly one dominated by start-ups, there is some basis for this expectation. After all, we no longer live in a society wherein workers plan to stay with one organization for their entire career, following a set career path. With position-hopping the norm, it makes sense for Millennials to leapfrog to the best opportunity. But for Gen X-ers in particular, who have worked years waiting for an opportunity to advance, this presumption can be difficult to grasp.
The good news is that organizations have more to offer Millennials than promotional opportunities. Experience is its own currency, and an organization that offers Millennials a chance to learn and grow professionally can retain talent without compromising the formal organizational hierarchy. That hierarchy is something to talk about in subsequent discussions, as the look of the traditional organization is also in transition.
All generations have valuable contributions to make in an organizational culture.
The key for modern organizations is to understand that every generation has value. To create the strongest culture, businesses need to find the benefits that will most appeal to each generation. By creating opportunities for generations in areas that they value most, organizations can foster unity rather than division across generational gaps.