The Importance of Baby Boomers in the Workplace
There is a lot of emphasis on Millennials, what this generation does in the workplace, and how members of this cohort influence the organizations for which they work. This makes sense, as this generation represents a large portion of new hires and are the future leaders of organizations. However, while Millennials are now officially the largest generation in the workforce, it doesn’t mean that Baby Boomers can be ignored. In fact, many dangers exist for organizations that alienate or otherwise ignore Baby Boomers and their needs.
Sometimes our clients, with the best of intentions, end up disengaging Baby Boomers by spending so much time creating programs and practices that align to Millennials’ values and expectations, that they forget to focus on their long-standing employees. Not only are Baby Boomers still very influential as a whole but, based on their age, there’s a good chance that your most knowledgeable and committed team members are Baby Boomers. This makes them vital to your organization’s continued success.
As a cohort, Baby Boomers are committed, hardworking, and focused. They are loyal to their teams and they often identify their self-worth with their career and the work they do.
While many Baby Boomers are reaching retirement age and leaving the workforce, there are also many who wish to continue working and contributing. This can be good for your organization from a knowledge transfer perspective. Not only are Baby Boomers experienced, but they offer unique perspectives and skills which they can mentor younger colleagues on. Also, having a diverse group of team members in your organization can be a competitive advantage, by maximizing the skill sets of each generation in order to be more productive.
Unfortunately, there are some prejudices associated with “older” workers. Some leaders believe that Baby Boomers are too “set in their ways” to be able to adapt to today’s changing business needs, while others may focus on this generation’s relative inexperience with new technology. It’s important that leaders not allow these biases to affect how Baby Boomers are treated in the workplace and that they are honest about any conscious or unconscious biases they hold.
The risks of alienating and disengaging your Baby Boomer teams are:
- Lower individual and team performance
- Increased team conflict
- Increased absenteeism
- Higher turnover
- Less enjoyable work environment for all team members
Potential Conflicts Between Baby Boomers and Millennials at Work
When team members from different generations work together, there is a great opportunity for increased innovation and creativity by leveraging the diversity of thought. However, the potential for conflict exists as well. Leadership should be aware of this possibility and take steps to resolve team conflict as well as work to eliminate potential areas of conflict before they arise. You can do this by:
- Creating Diverse Teams
- People will naturally flock to those who are similar to themselves. Leaders should create diverse teams whenever possible. Not only does this provide team members with the opportunity to work with and build relationships with colleagues from different generations, but it also can lead to unique solutions, discussions and learning that will help your team excel.
- Understanding Individuals
- Many members of a generation will have similar views and values as their peers. However, it’s important for leaders to understand team members as individuals, rather than just products of their generation. By taking the time to understand individual needs and desires of your team, you can help set goals and provide incentives that are appreciated by all team members.
- Understanding individuals in the workplace also helps avoid stereotyping. For example, assuming that a Baby Boomer has no desire to learn new technology can be harmful, especially if your team members are actually keen to understand new tools.
- Keep in mind, a team member can possess a generational mindset that is different than their age. You may have Baby Boomers that think and act like Millennials and vice versa. Observe their behaviours to help you identify which cohort they may most align to and then dig deeper to understand them on a personal and individual level.
- Looking for Similarities
- While the life experiences and perspectives of Millennials and Baby Boomers will differ, both generations want a lot of the same things. They want to be respected, they value personal growth, they are looking for a chance to make an impact, and they value a work-life balance.
- While Millennials may want more flexible schedules to accommodate their social lives or their young families, Baby Boomers are more interested in having time to spend caring for aging relatives, supporting their grandchildren, or dealing with medical issues. Once you find some common ground between generations, it becomes easier to accommodate the needs of your entire team and ensure everyone is engaged.
As president and co-founder of n-gen People Performance Inc., Giselle is dedicated to building strategies and programs that target, motivate and engage a multigenerational workforce. She is a sought after resource to industry leaders, having worked with 18 of the top Fortune 500 companies. Over 60,000 people globally have experienced an n-gen workshop or presentation. She has devoted more than fifteen years to researching the impact that generational differences have on organizational performance. Giselle has co-authored two books: Loyalty Unplugged: How to Get, Keep & Grow All Four Generations and Upgrade Now: 9 Advanced Leadership Skills. She has a Master’s degree in communication studies from the University of Windsor.