For the past five years, discussions about the “millennial generation” have infiltrated mainstream media, and impacted decisions made by organizations of every shape and size. The millennial cohort, known for its increased familiarity with media and digital technologies, recently overtook the baby boomer group as the nation’s largest living generation. While it’s true that Millennials bring social mindedness, propensity for work-life balance, and native technological capabilities to the workplace, we are failing to capitalize on the strengths of other generations. Are we overlooking part of our workforce because we’re focusing too much on making Millennials happy?
Eighty percent of Baby Boomers in their early 50s are in the workforce and a third of the oldest boomers are still working in some capacity, according to Gallup. Contrary to some current beliefs, these employees not only bring essential abilities and perspectives to the table, but the large majority are willing to reinvent themselves to keep up with the changes in their field of expertise.
In a speech that continues to make headlines, Facebook co-founder Mark Zuckerberg, addressing an early-stage startup conference at Stanford University in 2007, told the audience, “I want to stress the importance of being young and technical. Young people are just smarter. Why are most chess masters under 30?” Given this mindset, and the growing number of young entrepreneurs, some companies are narrowing their hiring focus to young, technologically advanced workers, and investing less time and resources on recruiting workers with more experience, and maybe a little more gray hair.
Engaging and supporting Millennial workers has become the focus and mission of many organizations who see this population as vital to a healthy, growing business. While organizations can't really afford to ignore any one population based on age, gender, ethnicity, or any other demographics, Millenial myopia has left some organizations without the benefits of the wisdom and experience that employees over 50 can bring.
Boomers approach problems differently
Older workers bring many years of experience, usually spanning several different jobs, with them to work each day. With that experience, they also bring understanding and a certain pragmatism to the corporate world. They’ve learned there is simply no “end of the world,” unfixable problem. They have faced set-backs and difficult life experiences and have come back stronger from their experiences. In many cases, Boomers will offer alternate viewpoints to discussions, which can be helpful for teams who are brainstorming or problem-solving.
Organizations who limit their employee base to people with a limited number of years in business, risk losing out on the perpective of someone who can see the long term view. Chances are, employees in the Boomer generation have seen the same business challenges, or similar challenges, sometime in their work experience. They offer the perspective of someone who has been there, done that, and can help organizations avoid making the same mistakes other organizations have made in the past and solutions that have had successful outcomes.
Boomers embrace and welcome change
While Millennials are often praised for being a generation that “grew-up” with technology at their fingertips, Boomers have had the unique experience of watching technology develop and change over time. The changes in technology, and the resulting changes in how poeple work and play have made Boomers flexible and adaptable. Boomers have welcomed new technology and have been the driving force behind it's initial acceptance. From the Internet to Smartphones, Boomers have learned to use a variety of innovations and have accepted them as necessary tools in the workplace and at home.
And finally, while Millennials, GenXs and GenYs have always used technology in their jobs, it is really the Boomers and GenXers that wrote the programs behind the technology. Beyond being digital natives, Boomers bring a different level of understanding of how technology has been developed and has evolved over time.
As the workplace continues to evolve, and as HR teams strive to create a better employee experience, organizations may find that Boomers are more adept at change and more accepting of new ways of doing things.
Boomers know verbal communication is king
Peter Du, in his article “This is Why Millennials Find Making Phone Calls So Terrifying,” explains why “telephone apprehension” is a real thing for Millennials. Du says the move away from face-to-face communication as offices becomes decentralized may be to blame. Most Boomers, however, have been part of a time in business when verbal communication was king. They are typically well-prepared to represent their company with professionalism and poise, and aren’t afraid to pick up the phone or take that in-person meeting.
As the workplace continues to evolve, and personalized trumps virtual connection, employers are going to be looking for people who can make connections over the phone and make a positive impression. Boomers have the verbal skills and the confidence to express their ideas in a variety of mediums, unlike their younger counterparts who haven't developed the phone skills and etiquette native to Boomers.
Boomers can mentor younger employees
During their tenure, our career transition coaches have reported a growing need for mentorship programs for professionals of all levels. The Millenial influence has created a shift in workplace norms and practices, one of which is the desire by employees to experience a variety of roles and take on new challenges as a way to improve their worth in the marketplace.
Engaging employees and keeping team members fulfilled has become the focus of many HR leaders. Meanwhile, Boomers have already had a variety of experiences. They worked in an era where you found your own mentors and orchestrated your own professional development, in your own time. These employees aren't looking for a variety of experiences, as much as they are focused on delivering quality work in their current roles.
Boomers, with their years of experience and industry knowledge are prime candidates to become mentors to younger employees. Boomers help to fill an organizational gap as mentors and can be tapped the share their years of life and business experience to other members of the organization.
Boomers are willing to reinvent themselves
Throughout their careers, most Baby Boomers have likely reinvented themselves, or gone through significant career changes, crossroads, or challenges at some point. Self reinvention is a trait that Boomers and Millennials have in common. In fact, a LinkedIn study found that Millennials jump jobs an average of four times in their first decade out of college. If Boomers are still in the workforce today, they’ve likely improved the skills necessary to do their job and hold leadership roles in organizations. Boomers, more than their younger counterparts, are likely more willing to be flexible thinkers and willing to consider opinions and points of view that differ from their own.
Although some high-tech entrepreneurs may be ready to dismiss Boomers, the fact is that most workers born in the 1950’s and 1960’s aren’t ready, or able, to exit the workforce. An AARP study showed that although 76 million Boomers will be facing retirement age in the future, 41% said they did not want to quit working, when asked about their intentions. It’s important to appeal to the Baby Boomer market despite Millennials getting attention.
Organizations of all sizes can benefit from Boomers at work, from their unique approach to problem-solving to their ability to adapt to change, they bring diversity to discussions. Most cultures understand the wisdom and experience that older generations bring, but sometimes influences - such as the CEO of Facebook - can scew our opinions and narrow our perspectives. Organizations looking to innovate while maintaining stability will look to establishing a diverse workplace that includes not only a mix of Boomers and Millennials, but otherwise demographically varied teams.