You can barely pick up the paper these days without hearing about the 10,000 Baby Boomers who are reaching retirement age every day and how they will a) be a drain on the social security system and b) not “go gently into that good night.” Yet whether it is for the flexibility to visit with grandchildren and pursue travel dreams, the need for added income, or simply the desire not to be seen as past their prime, more and more Boomers are taking post-retirement careers.
Boomers that achieved executive status often return to the workforce as consultants – working flexible hours on focused projects of special interest or where their retained knowledge is especially helpful. But more and more Boomers are shifting gears completely, focusing on post-retirement careers that feed into a creative desire or relate to hobbies and personal interests outside of an individual’s primary career. Could it be that the generation that told its children to “go out and find something that makes you happy” is taking its own advice?
A recent article in the Plattsburg Press Republican speaks to this phenomena, which has been dubbed “encore careers.” The University of Hartford has a program, Encore! Hartford, specifically geared toward helping individuals find their encore careers.
If Boomers don’t really want to – or can’t fully – retire, and Xers and Millennials are seeking careers that are more about happiness than climbing the corporate ladder, businesses that figure out how to let employees find passion in their work will surge to the forefront. This doesn’t have to mean small, entrepreneurial companies are the only way to find loyalty and engagement, but it does mean that corporations will have to work harder to be the places of business where today’s employees want to work.
Boomers and Xers make up 88% of the workforce, but only about 27% are actively engaged employees, according to the most recent Gallup research. In fact, the only generation with a strong margin of actively engaged employees was the Traditionalists (I call them the Matures), whose engagement profile is 44% – yet they represent only 4% of all employees.
So what does this mean for employers? If nearly 75% of employees are not engaged or actively disengaged – that is, they would considering leaving their place of employment if another opportunity surfaced or they are actively seeking alternate employment – the potential for lost institutional knowledge and increased hiring and training costs is high.
It doesn’t surprise me that the numbers stack up as they do. We’ve recognized the impact of past layoffs on future employee loyalty for quite some time. Those 4% of Traditionalists are the last group of employees who expect to spend an entire career at one company. But this doesn’t mean that companies are doomed to suffer revolving- door employment. By understanding what the different generations value most – and by creating avenues for shared knowledge at all levels of an organization – business leaders can both improve engagement and minimize the impact of turnover on knowledge retention. These are the tools and tactics we discuss in my sessions on Attracting and Retaining a New Generation of Employees.
Target marketing based on age groupings is nothing new – advertising companies have been doing it for ages. However, this approach by Heineken struck me as particularly interesting from a generational perspective. The Heineken Ideas Brewery is in itself a great concept for the younger generations as it is allows consumers to share thoughts directly with the brewery and plays into the Xer and Millennial desire to be recognized as individuals with individual wants.
Apparently the company wasn’t satisfied with its sales to the Boomer generation and decided to ask consumers their ideas for new products that would attract this sought-after demographic. The top six ideas are outlined here (note: not the official list) and are somewhat fascinating in what they say about people’s perceptions of Boomers.
Whether this product development crowd surfing yields a viable Boomer-targeted brew is still to be seen, but it is an interesting combination of a communication tactic typically targeting younger generations being used to specifically target older generations. If you read the blog post, results are mixed, but you have to hand it to the folks at Heineken for taking a shot.
Tradesmen. Craftsmen. Artisans. Skilled laborers. Whatever you want to call it, they are a dying breed and businesses are taking note. As Gen X and Millennials vie for white collar office space, or skip the corporate world and jump right into a start-up, the master-apprentice tradition of learning specific skills on the job and over years is getting lost. And as Boomers retire, trade skills are getting lost too.
Businesses that rely on skilled labor need to work hard, and fast, to replace that centuries-old tradition and bring new apprentices into the fold. As mentioned in the article linked above, businesses aren’t the only ones who are trying to close the gap. Governments and educators are also working to funnel new workers into important trades, providing grants and accelerated training programs.
The question is this – can these trade-focused businesses overcome the generational bias toward the white collar world? It may be easier than you might think, given some of the Millennial and Gen X preferences for creativity, personal brand, uniqueness, and activism. Both of these generations want to stand out but also belong, skilled jobs represent a proud tradition and a shift away from the common expectation. Highlight the skills portion of the conversation – not just anyone can do this specific work; it takes dedication, practice, perfection and provides a sense of honor over a job well done. Car manufacturers, for example, have been taking this approach to get Americans to buy American-made cars for the past several years. Now it’s time to deliver that same message to get people to build them (or whatever else it is that needs building).
Whether it is due to fears about the economy, finally getting tired of the corporate grind, or simply a desire to stay busy in retirement, it seems more and more Baby Boomers are putting on the entrepreneur’s cap. In fact, the Rapid City Journal recently profiled a Boomer entrepreneur whose bright idea for business is a support service company specifically for helping Boomer entrepreneurs get their businesses off the ground. Talk about niche. And yet he already has 50 businesses signed up.
What does this trend mean to your business? Are you losing experienced professionals because they are ready to do something that is more personal and meaningful? If so, consider how you can adapt their role within your organization to become more flexible or collaborative. Many established Boomer professionals are happy to shift to a consulting role, for example, with more flexibility to work on special projects and with flexible schedules. They get to maintain their status as knowledgeable experts while rolling up their sleeves to work on something new and creative.
If keeping Boomers is not your challenge, perhaps this trend toward entrepreneurialism is an opportunity for your company to serve an unmet need. Like the gentlemen in Rapid City, is there something your business can offer that will help Boomer entrepreneurs quickly establish and grow their business? Most entrepreneurs are good at what they do – the idea behind their company – but not necessarily at building and running a company in general. From taxes to technology, marketing to payroll, consider where your business can provide added value. Then keep your ears open for Boomers talking about side businesses that may actually be more than hobby.
The folks at BuzzFeed got a lot of response to a recent post about the small slice of young adults caught between the associated norms of the Millennials and Generation X. So much reaction, in fact, that they decided to run a poll and let the members of the group name itself. If you were born between 1975 and 1982, what do you think your generational name should be?
Now, mind you, I don’t think this is a very necessary task. Generations always blur at the edges and generational norms are just that – norms. No single person is defined solely by the collective characteristics of those who happen to share his or her birth year. Of course not. But norms exist because society changes and the experiences you have in your formative years make an impact. A generation experiences history in a collective way and it has a collective impact.
So while generations are grouped in birth-year spreads, the science is certainly not exact. More accurately, generational norms are a continuous spectrum. But that makes it whole lot harder to write catchy cover headlines for TIME.
For years, economists and generational experts have been talking about the business impact that will come as Baby Boomers retire in droves. Entire industries have emerged to handle the needs of this enormous generation as it ages out of the work world and into some semblance of retirement – be that semi-retired or active senior living or long term care. But Boomers are affecting established industries as well.
A recent story on NBC News highlights how restaurateurs are catering to the Boomer clientele. When we think of restaurants and other B2C business, the trends have historically shifted toward the youth. What is up-and-coming? How can we attract young adults with their fresh paychecks and establish them as loyal customers for life?
Turns out the older generations are tired of the kitchen while the younger ones are just learning to appreciate the simple life, so the target audience changes. With Boomers holding the bulk of the purchasing power in America today, however, it seems more and more restaurants are shifting gears and considering how to appeal to more sophisticated – or simply older – tastes. This blogger, however, seems to think that Gen X should be getting some extra TLC.
What generational stereotypes or habits are you holding onto? Are they getting in the way of opportunity? Think about it.
This is terrific. Also bordering on narcissistic and indulgent, but mostly terrific.
If you aren’t tempted to click the link just because I said it’s terrific, here’s a preview. The link takes you to CNN where a young Gen X editorial cartoonist (and Pulitzer-prize finalist) takes on the Millennial-bashing and analyzing that he feels is bringing down the greatest generation.
As someone who makes a living analyzing the generations and helping businesses understand how they work – and work together – I’d take offense to the rant, except he is correct. We have been looking at and fretting over differences in the generations forever. But that is because each generation IS different, and how we communicate with them and bring the best out of them continues to change. The analysis is not new; what we are learning is.
I work with a good deal of financial advisory firms, many of which are grappling with how to attract and engage younger investors to maintain a strong continuity of client base. And while this is increasingly important, it is also worth noting that the financial advisory needs of the Baby Boomers are not going away. In fact, they are likely to grow.
Relationship-oriented service businesses should not assume that all Boomers have established relationships with providers. An article in U-T San Diego quotes a 2013 study by the PNC Financial Services Group states that only 43% of Boomers surveyed have established or are planning to establish a financial plan. That means 57% of Boomers – the group that holds the majority of wealth in the nation – are likely in need of one, whether they admit it or not.
While financial advisors are out wooing younger investors who don’t think they need advisory services yet, they should also be educating older prospective clients who may be significant financial milestones in the very near future. The good news is that most financial advisors already know how to communicate with Boomers, the difference with this group of potentially hesitant clients is that you’ll need to do some educating and convincing that the need is there.
I’ve long recommended that employees connect younger employees with the elder statesmen (and women) of the company – either in addition to or instead of the traditional “next level up” mentor system. From a generational perspective, it seems that this youngest generation in the workforce has a sense of idealism that resonates with older generations – and is wholly lost on the Gen Xers in between.
At MoSoConf – Canada’s mobile and social conference held in Saskatchewan last month – marketing exec Michael Douma delivered the keynote address with a speech titled “Thinking Like a Millennial in an Industry of Boomers.” Douma recognizes the seemingly illogical gap between the Millennials and Xers, focusing on some basic differences in how each generation responds to marketing.
Why is this important?
First, while the generations exist on a continuum the norms and behaviors they exhibit tend to have fairly clear breaking points. Yes, there are Xers who have Boomer habits, and Millennials who behave like Xers, but on the whole, the generations have somewhat predictable and distinct patterns. Contrary to logic, an “older Millennial” is not automatically more like a “young Xer.”
Second, the conversation is never just about the norms of a generation – it should be about generational norms in relation to one another. This is why the frustrations of a Gen X manager and Boomer manager trying to develop the same Millennial worker will be different. The similarities and disparities between any two generations is distinct to that generational match up.
Progress comes when we understand both our own habits and those of the generations we are trying to lead.