Generations: Baby Boomers

Baby boomers were born between 1946 and 1964 making them between 54 and 72 years old today. …And I take this opportunity to apologise to any of those 73 years old plus, from the so-called Silent or Great Generation, who I haven’t focused on in this series.

Baby Boomer Traits

Baby boomers are an interesting bunch. As children they faced a world which struggled to accommodate them. Here is a film showing American baby boomers being schooled in 2 hour shifts due to the lack of capacity in the education system. Then as young adults, they rebelled against the traditional values instilled on them by their parents and the wider society. Their parents, having lived through the devastation of the Depression and war, clung to the security of tradition. Boomers worked hard to challenge the old conventions. They were the first generation to have a young adulthood – a new stage of life between being a child in the home you grew up in and forming a family of your own.

Baby boomers now work beyond retirement age and so we are seeing them in positions of authority all across society – in politics, judiciary and business. We have had Baby boomer American presidents since 2001. The stage of life Boomers now find themselves in puts them at the top of their careers, but also allows this period to be of an extended duration compared to previous generations.

That said, many Boomers are in the sandwich generation, looking after aged parents and still supporting their children. Some Boomer parents assist their children financially to get on the housing ladder or practically by caring for their grandchildren so their children can work outside the home.

So what are the traits of the Boomer generation?

  • Boomers were radical in their time – they broke new ground in their youth. However, they are in a stage of life which is inherently more conservative, and subsequent generations have come along since with more social change. Boomers tend to perceive themselves as ‘rebels’ even if this spirit has waned as they have aged.
  • Boomers are uneven users of tech – most are on line and on to at least one form of social media, but extension into other areas of technology is very variable. It depends on what the individual has adopted into their life whereas younger generations have more ubiquitous patterns of tech use.
  • Boomers are experienced and wise having lived through most of the stages of life compared to their young colleagues. They know that experience counts.
  • They also want to work with a sense of purpose and understand what causes matter most. They want to feel they make a positive contribution and/or help the planet.

There is a potential connection in the underlying values of Boomers and Millennials – so they may be able to form good working relationships if they can get over outward appearances. They can bond over their differences to the Gen X which sit in-between. These include:

  • work life balance – Millennials are raising young kids, and Boomers tend to have responsibilities outside of work as well, plus are seeking work life balance for their retirement.
  • a sense of purpose – Boomers and Millennials both appreciate a sense of wider mission in life and respond well to working with others towards a project which matters. One which makes the world a better place.

Standing in the way of this potential relationship between Boomers and Millenials is communication. The Boomers need to embrace a much broader range of communication methods than that which they are used to. Meanwhile the Millennials need to find ways to tap into the experience and wisdom a Boomer can bring to the project. Establishing an open line of communication and a non-hierarchical team structure around a worthy project can help Boomers and Millennials work great together.

Baby Boomers in the workplace

Here are five hints for Baby Boomers:

  1. Make it clear to your colleagues how they can communicate with you – email, direct messaging, team sites – make your preferred means of communication clear (but also be open to learning new means, particularly if it suits the rest of the team).
  2. Many Boomers entered the workplace when support staff typed up the reports, and have never really become efficient touch typists. The good news is that modern voice recognition means that you don’t need to pursue those keyboard skills – learn more about embracing voice technology.
  3. Cast aside traditional beliefs about broadcasting – the modern world means that each and every one of us can broadcast our story on social media. Take a little time to view your colleagues broadcasts, instead of traditional curated publications like the TV news and the newspaper. You will understand what makes your colleagues tick from how they broadcast their individuality to the world.
  4. Recognise your emotional responses to team work – younger generations don’t mean disrespect but are used to a non-hierarchical structure. Don’t be offended by this.
  5. You can have natural synergy with both Millennials and Gen Z, however the difference in the way you use technology can create a divide. Come together to talk out a solution.

Working with Baby Boomers in the workplace

Here are five hints for working with Baby Boomers in the workplace:

  1. The safest assumption to make about Boomers and technology is that it will be very individual. A few know a lot about all strands of tech, most have a working knowledge of the devices and software they have experience with, and many have little knowledge. The US president, a Boomer, is tweeting up a storm. Boomers may be quite proficient in technology they “see the point of” e.g. will use a mobile device proficiently not never have a social media app on it. So don’t assume because they don’t know social media they don’t know anything about tech. And don’t assume just because they know about some tech, they will have embraced all modern technology.
  2. Don’t assume all Baby Boomers value work success and equate their value to their professional accomplishments – many have a lot of responsibilities outside of work and value work life balance. Ask them about the grandchildren.
  3. Find out how best to communicate with them – they often prefer face to face meetings or quick phone calls.
  4. Helpfully assist them to embrace other modern work aids such as team sites, direct messaging and the value of non-written expression (e.g. video).
  5. Acknowledge and respect their accomplishments and their experience – they can add a lot of wisdom to the project’s strategy.

Check out our Pinterest board on the generations for some useful infographics and comparisons of the generations.

And remember that much of these generational differences are down to the commonalities of human life stages. All older generations think the next generation is less worthy than their own. This is because everyone lives in the context of their upbringing – they value the traits that were most desired by the society they were raised in. These values shift over time, hence the negative viewpoint of those who come along later with different values.

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