Know Your Baby Boomers

More insights on leading a multigenerational workforce

It’s complicated… somewhat, at least. We face a challenge that is new to everybody: a truly multigenerational workplace. How should we operate in such an environment? How can I be most effective as a leader and create productive results? Find out about the boomers….

It’s important to recognize what the differences are. And yes, there are some significant cultural and attitudinal differences between the boomers, Generation X, and Generation Y (and soon Generation Z) to consider when thinking about teamwork and a coordinated approach to conquering business challenges.

We are all a product of our past.

Know your Baby Boomers
Baby Boomers will create value for some time to come

One of the fundamental reasons for the divide between generations is that boomers, Gen X, and Gen Y think differently due to their early life conditioning and circumstances. In their book “13th Generation,” William Strauss and Neil Howe state, “A generation is shaped by the events and circumstances its members experience at certain phases in life, beginning with childhood. Common generational traits initially develop as a result of social attitudes toward children and child-rearing norms at the time.”

Are Gen X and Y really lazy slackers, as many boomers claim?

I am a boomer and I remember my parents’ consternation when I was a teen with long hair, a new taste in music (like the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, Black Sabbath, and Jethro Tull), and huge bell-bottom pants with a color insert. What parent out there doesn’t think their child is a lazy slacker sometimes? Or that their clothes, hairstyle, or makeup should be different? Or doesn’t understand how anyone could enjoy their music?

This is not what is fundamentally wrong or different with Gen X, Y, and Z. It is about the differences forged between generations based on being exposed to a different life, and a different fast-changing business and social environment.

For a productive outcome, we must seek to understand the differences that exist today without judgment. In future columns, I’ll focus on Gen X, Y, and Z, but for now, let’s take a look at my fellow boomers.

What makes a boomer?

They were born between 1945 and 1964, and there are still well over 65 million in the U.S. They fall into two categories with somewhat distinct features.

The first group contains those born between 1945 and 1955. They were affected by some key events like the rapid rise of JFK, RFK, and MLK; the buildup toward the start of the Vietnam War, which led to protests; the growing popularity of drug experimentation; and the beginnings of the civil rights and women’s movements.

Characteristics: experimental, individualistic, free-spirited, social cause-oriented.

Then comes the Boomer “group 2,” also referred to as “Generation Jones” (1956-1964). They grew up learning great optimism from the messages of the Kennedys and King — and the crash after the subsequent assassinations was very impactful. It hurled those optimists into the pessimistic ’70s, when they felt the unrequited “Jonesing” quality of comparing themselves to others, or “keeping up with the Joneses.”

Key events during that time were Watergate, the Cold War, the lowering of the drinking age, the oil embargo, raging inflation, gas shortages, and the reinstatement of the draft.

Characteristics: less optimistic, distrusting of “The Man,” more cynical in outlook, and a “Big Brother’s watching” mentality.

What generalities can we make about boomers overall?

They are associated with rejection and redefined traditional values. They became the healthiest and wealthiest generation. They are often seen as workaholics, had many career options, worked their way up the ladder, dealt with a sink-or-swim environment, and learned that hard work gets rewarded. Knowledge also gets rewarded, so they tend to guard their experience and knowledge. They also define their success by their wealth.

As an additional perspective, for the first time, women began to think of careers, not just jobs — marking the start of the juggling act between their careers and their families. The latchkey kid was created, which contributed to significant social changes in society.

 Going forward

The boomers are currently strongly entrenched in “running things” from business to politics with Gen X in a strong “takeover” position. Obviously, the situation is quite dynamic. To develop a more collaborative environment, we must learn more about each other while abandoning judgment. For us boomers, it might help to reflect on the way we come across to those we actually have created and attempt to make our knowledge and expertise available for the benefit of the next generations. Making it easy for them to “buy in” is the key.

For the younger generations, dismissing the knowledge and experience repository we boomers possess as old-fashioned and unusable may be unwise at best, and potentially foolish. Take as much of our expertise as you can gather and add it to your repertoire. You don’t have to use it, but it still is good to have, as it may come in very handy in the future. Good luck and make it happen!

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