boomer leaders

Boomers Need to Be Uncomfortable at Work

The end is near but not here yet

I’m the guy who’s supposed to turn out the lights and close the door behind me as the last Baby Boomers exit the workforce.

I was born in what most generational researchers identify as the last year of the boom. Some researchers have even put me in Generation X. Often I feel like I have a leg in each generation.

While the older Boomers have already found the door, most of us younger Boomers still have another 10-15 years of work ahead of us, and maybe more if retirement accounts aren’t where they should be, and the retirement age continues to creep up.

Boomers are still in charge

As is often the case, your most senior employees sit in the organization’s most powerful chairs. That means many organizations will be led by Boomers for at least another decade.

What will Boomers do with their last decade of organizational control? I’m afraid they will make decisions that will irritate most of their employees.

Boomers have always viewed themselves as the big generation. Their size alone justified an expectation that the world be set up to meet their needs. Heck, their name alone implies that we should notice them. BOOM.

Because of that long history, I worry that we Boomers might be slow to catch on to basic demographic facts.

Generational makeup of the U.S. labor force

We are no longer the big dogs at work, at least not based on our numbers. Our clout peaked in 1997, and it’s been waning ever since.

And check out this little nugget. As of 2015, Boomers have slipped into third place. Ouch.

The 2015 Pew Research provides the labor force generational numbers you need to know:

  1. There are still 44.6 million Boomers in the U.S. labor force, but their numbers are falling fast.
  2. Generation X has 52.7 million and their numbers are flat and will likely stay that way until people my age start to retire.
  3. The Millennials (those 36 and younger) have now won the prize as the biggest portion of the U.S. labor force at 53.5 million, and their numbers will continue to steadily increase until they’ve all graduated and started work.

The Boomers have a choice to make

As most everyone acknowledges and often bitterly complains about, there are distinct differences in how older and younger workers do their jobs.

The Boomers who are running things have an important decision to make. Should they promote policies and practices that align with their own values and preferences, or cater to the larger portion of the workforce?

Knowing our propensity as humans to make ourselves comfortable, I suspect us Boomers will make the wrong choice.

Leaders will need to make a choice that may work against their own comfort…

  • If they want to attract and retain talent.
  • If they want to maintain employee satisfaction.
  • If they want a productive workforce.

It will be interesting to see if they do.