Technology has enabled a virtual world that Boomers and Matures never imagined, and one that Millennials and Xers have come to expect–especially in the white collar workplace. Why should someone be tied to a desk all day if their peers are not in the same office, or even the same time zone? What difference does it make if I work from 7-2, take a break to handle afterschool duties, and then resume working at home from 8-10, as long as I meet my deadlines?
This unorthodox balance of the personal and the professional, and the underlying message that time has its own value, has been central to the expectations of younger generations in the workplace for years. In recent years, it is becoming increasingly important to older generations as well.
Whether due to financial need or simply a desire to stay active and involved, Boomers are working longer, but are increasingly seeking more flexible work options. A recent New York Times article, The Age Premium: Retaining Older Workers, shares the stories of Boomers and employers that are seeking to create balance for older workers. One of the most interesting approaches is that of CVS’s “snowbird” program that allows employees in northern climates to transfer to stores in the south during the winter. The program allows CVS to place its mature employees where their customer base is also largely mature, creating a benefit for the business as well as the employees. Other companies offer reduced schedules for semi-retired employees, allowing them to serve as mentors to rising leaders.
And that may be the critical thing. With Generation X such a small workforce compared to Boomers and Millennials, businesses may be facing a knowledge gap. Looking outside the box and considering flexible employment scenarios can help bridge that gap while also helping hesitant Boomers ease into their retirement years.
I am frequently asked whether the differences in the generations are true differences or simply differences between ages. It is also a common belief that individuals grow more conservative as they grow older, however statistics do not necessarily bear that one out. The Pew Research Center recently reviewed 30 years of voting trends, comparing the percent of young (age 18-29) and older (age 65+) voters who voted democratic in each election between 1972 and 2012. With the exception of the 1972 Nixon election and the 2008 and 2012 elections of Barack Obama, the gap between the ages has only been a few percentage points.
In every year between Nixon and Obama, the percent of democratic voters was fairly consistent at both ends of age spectrum. So while Millennials and Boomers are not voting alike right now – there was a 21 percentage point gap in the 2008 election and 16 point gap in 2012, older and younger generations have more of a consistent voting record than one would think. In fact, from 1988 through 2004, the democratic vote for both age groups hovered around 50 percent. What does this mean for the workplace? Honestly, I’m not sure.
But what I do know is that for most of the Millennials’ lives, their supposedly “more conservative” elders have actually been voting fairly democratic. And as the Millennials came of voting age the percent of young people voting democratic jumped to 60+ percent.
I can’t help but think that this has a correlation to the Millennial desire to “find a job you love” – the manifestation of ideas set in motion, but never quite realized, by their Boomer parents.
Not exactly. But while much is written about the high concentration of affluence in the Boomer ranks, and the speculation that Gen Xers will be the first generation not expected to surpass their parents in terms of financial success, a Bloomberg Businessweek feature tells the story of wealth disparity between a Boomer worker and her Mature father.
It might be easy to blame this on the recent recession, as so many Boomers lost significant value in investments or found themselves unemployed at a point in their careers where they expected relative stability. Yet, the underlying issues may be more about generational norms than the nation’s economy or state of the global markets. During the course of the Boomer career, the fundamental structure of work changed. Boomers saw the disappearance of the golden watch retirement and the scaling back and near extinction of employee pension plans. Retirement planning became self-guided and self-funded. Career paths became mercurial (though this was certainly just the beginning). They also pioneered the idea of work hard, play hard – spending significantly more on entertainment than previous generations (at all income levels).
You can’t take it with you, right? If the woman profiled in this article is any indication, these choices may be catching up with some Boomers who will not have the financial footing to expect an old age of leisure and travel. Yet their parents, who likely never made a fraction of the salary they’ve come to expect, had the savings discipline borne out of the great depression (even if passed on by their own parents) and the societal infrastructure to support a strong and adventurous retirement, if they wish.
In December, the Pew Research Center released the results of a snap survey that asked whether individuals preferred to work with male or female co-workers. Whether politically correct or simply honest, the overwhelming majority (77%) expressed no preference. However, of those that did express a preference, males and females both stated a preference for working with males. But then they dug deeper and analyzed the responses by generation…
Interestingly, the survey indicated that Millennials are “significantly less likely to prefer working with male coworkers than other generations.” And Millennial men are nearly twice as likely to prefer working with mostly women than Millennial women.
Admittedly, this was a very simplistic survey – asking only three questions about personal preference and the perceived preference of others – yet I still find it intriguing that the youngest men in the workforce are the most interested in working with women. The survey doesn’t indicate whether that preference is for female peers (Millennial women) or all women (female bosses over male bosses), so the theories on why this could be are far ranging and could build on every gender stereotype known to man. But is there something inherently different with this generation, or is it simply an issue of age? I did not find any similar reports from previous generations, so for now we’ll just have to surmise. What are your thoughts?
That’s the question the Pew Research Center asked recently. And the answer is, the kids. Millennials want to be the boss, Gen Xers are split, and Boomers say, no thanks. More scientifically, 32% of Boomer, 58% of Gen Xers and 70% of Millennials males (and 21%, 41% and 61%, respectively for females) want to be the boss.
That may or may not come as a surprise to you. Often those with the least power are most hungry for it, and those in power better understand the burden. So, from a generational and age perspective it makes sense that the youngest workers are most eager to become the boss. But what does that really mean?
If you apply what we know about each generation – Millennials’ desire for independence and self-reliace, Gen Xers wish to better balance personal and professional achievement – it may be that there is a slightly different definition of “boss” at play. Does the younger generation want to be the boss of others? Or just the boss of themselves?
Aging Baby Boomers who don’t want to take on the typical retirement stereotypes have created demand for new businesses aimed at helping them address their AARP years in a whole new way. On the flip side of business, some Millennials are recognizing that their unique way of navigating the workforce demands some new ways of looking at business. Dan Friedman, the millennial founder of one such business, Thinkful, recently shared his perspective in Business Insider. In an nutshell, Friedman proposes that the loss of expectations for meaningful employee-employer loyalty has created a professional learning gap for today’s young workers. More companies are offering less professional development because employees don’t stay around long enough for it to be considered a good investment.
Friedman’s solution is to create a non-collegiate learning platform that allows young professionals to get the workplace development they want on their terms, regardless of employer involvement. Which, when you think about it, a very Millennial approach: my way, right away, for my benefit. And it would be easy to get cynical about that, except for that pesky truth about diminished professional development at many companies and the incredibly shrinking tenure.
In the chicken-egg discussion that is generations in the workplace one might ask whether such a solution is only fueling the problem, but that isn’t going to get you very far. The more interesting discussion, in my view, is this: what other businesses may develop in response to changing demands from this youngest workforce? So much attention is paid to what the Boomers may need (and they tend to have the finances to support entrepreneurs, so this makes sense), but their offspring have some high needs, too. Kudos to Friedman for seeing a distinct trend and creating a business opportunity for himself that may well be an opportunity for business overall.
Businesses spend quite a bit of time trying to understand what’s next…from the workplace demands of the next generation of superstars to the buying habits of the famed “18-24 target market” of potential brand loyalists. However, demographics tell us that “what’s next” may well be what just was. That is, the power of last generation’s new target market—Baby Boomers—is still the most powerful consumer market, and the older Gen Xers are right on their tails. Businesses need to keep up.
By 2017, nearly half the US population will be 50 or older. They will have the more purchasing power than any other generation has had at this age, and they will want to use it in ways that are not “old.” This is the message in a recent Financial Times article, Why companies are failing to cash in on flood of aging Baby Boomers worth US$15-trillion.
Much has been written about how Baby Boomers are eschewing the traditional retired life, whether that means working longer to make ends meet, launching into a second career to fulfill one’s dreams or moving to the city instead of the retirement community, Boomers are doing things differently and companies need to figure out what that means from a consumer standpoint. And they need to do it fast.
When creating new products for this “new” market, or selling existing products/services to this group after many years, it is important to remember that while the fundamentals of the generation may be the same, they are still evolving and growing. You may have always sold to Baby Boomers, but do you know them now?
The FT article reminds us “When it comes to aging, myths abound. Here’s one: Older consumers buy the same brands they’ve always bought, so why bother catering to them? ‘If that theory was true, I would drive a Chevy Impala and wear English Leather,’ said (gerontologist Ken) Dychtwald, 63.” Not that there’s anything wrong with that.
Here’s an interesting new trend – Baby Boomers are beginning to settle down in the big city. According to a report in the Seattle Times, more and more Baby Boomers are walking away from the homes and yards in the suburbs to spend their empty-nester and retirement (or semi-retirement) years in the metro bustle that had once been the playground of the fresh-from-college crowd.
It makes a lot of sense – smaller spaces, less time and money on maintenance, no worries about school districts – and it creates some interesting opportunities for employers and businesses. Besides the overall real estate impact, these Boomers are typically returning to the city looking for an active lifestyle. This can mean new target audiences for restaurants, shops and galleries. It can also mean the potential to retain knowledgeable workers longer – reduced commutes create more work-life balance, and close proximity to the office may encourage older workers to stay on in consulting roles as a semi-retirement solution.
What I find most fascinating about this trend is that it underscores the strange truth that Millennials and Boomers – despite being a full generation apart and frequently rolling their eyes at one another – have some very strong similarities. What the Boomers and the Millennials both want right now is more individuality, more excitement and more freedom. It will be interesting to see if they can stand being neighbors.
I’ve posted about this phenomenon before, and talked about it with clients over the years, but still people have a hard time believing it is true. Yes, I’m talking about parents getting all up in their grown children’s employment business. The topic is back thanks to an article in Huffington Post Business “Millennials Now Bring Their Parents along to Job Interviews.”
HuffPost is reporting out statistics that say 3% of job seekers have their parents sit in on an interview – a number that seems statistically insignificant until you realize that until a few years ago not only would the number be 0%, the question itself would not even make it to the survey.
There is one environment where this trend makes solid sense – the US Army. In fact, the Army has been recruiting parents and children together for several years now, and it makes good sense. A soldier is more successful if he or she has full support back at home. Convincing parents that the army is a great career for their children is a sound approach, because the job is putting the child’s life at risk. The survey findings above were not Army-exclusive, however, so I must remind our younger job seekers and their parents to stop. Just stop.
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.