I was working with the President of Witz Education, Greg Witz, looking at how to do business with each generation. I found understanding the development of boomers fascinating as it helps understand their approach to life and business. In this article, I will share what I learned and how to use this knowledge to succeed in business…and maybe be a better son/daughter!
Split into early and late boomers, they were born between 1945-1965 and are also known as the “ME Generation” (chart). The differences between the early boomers (or boomer 1) and late boomers (or boomer 2) are quite distinct and experienced very different developmental paths.
Early boomers, the first 10 years, were raised in the affluent times of the 60’s and valued free expression. They expected to go to university and were the most educated up to their generation. In the United States, their fathers had served in WWII and they were expected to serve in the Vietnam War. Even if they managed to dodge the draft, they had friends who served. They were highly individualistic and idealistic, protesting the draft and rioted in the late 60’s when the jobs they expected to have were not available (sound oddly familiar Gen-Y?). They led the “hippy” movement and became disenchanted with the government they believed in with the Watergate scandal. In 1979, the divorce rate hit 50% with most being boomers, leaving Gen-X’s to be the first generation to experience single-parent homes. Just as these boomers hit the workforce, between 1973 and 1982, “the United States suffered through three recessions, two energy crises, inflation and high unemployment — a disillusioning time to establish a career” (a well put line from the NY Times). Riding a constant wave of constant political and social change, early boomers were lucky to have a job and gave up their ideals to support themselves and their families. They were “work-aholics”, putting in long hours to establish a career and raise a family and creating Gen-X latchkey kids. These were the authoritative, do as your told, bosses who ruled with fear and coercion. Not really surprising given what they had gone through! Now in their 60’s & 70’s, they are ready to leave work and enjoy life.
The late boomers, born between 1955 -1965, are the parents of the Gen-Ys. These boomers never experienced the political uprisings their older counterparts did and their fathers likely did not serve in WWII. They were less jaded as they were less idealistic. While watching footage of the 1968 riots, NY Times author Richard Perez-Pena recalls thinking: “People my age don’t feel that strongly about anything”. While the older boomers wanted to change the world and fought against the boundaries, the younger boomers took advantage of the new freedoms. Coming of age in the 70’s, they took advantage of the now easily accessible birth control pill and took for granted the sexual freedom that was revolutionary to their older counterparts. By the time they hit the workforce in the early 80’s, the economy had rebounded from the recessions and shopping became a sport. Now in their 50’s and 60’s, these are the boomer bosses who tend to take a more forward thinking approach to management and more resemble Gen-X’s than boomers. AARP notes several trends with these boomers. They embraced technology, growing up with TV and the first personal computers, and those who stayed with it integrated it into their business or made it their business. They also valued looking great, staying healthy, and brought back the environmental/green movement. It was the start of truly spoiling their kids as they felt guilty about not being around, creating products if it didn’t exist (Gymboree being but one example).
We can already note some of the differences between the two boomer groups and the differences we might expect to see if they are our bosses. Combined, they hold the positions of power in business and government but are also being forced to extend their working lives. While they are the richest generation, they started saving for retirement late and now 69% are unprepared for retirement according to US News. Longer dependence from their Gen-Y children also impacted their ability to start saving.
Given the tough job market and the decreasing barriers of entry for many small businesses, boomers turn to entrepreneurship to pursue a passion or as a better alternative to sending out tons of resumes with no response (Buffalo News). Having held a single job for most of their working life, 54% are now considering or have opened their own business or franchise. Of these, 67% are looking outside their current industry according to a TD Canada Trust survey. For many older boomers, this is an opportunity to return to the dreams of their youth that they were forced to give up in order to make ends meat. For younger boomers, they look at it as part of their investment portfolio.
So what’s the takeaway from all this? I think we need to give the boomers a bit of a break. Sure, they lead us down a path of huge student debt with limited employment opportunities, but they were merely pushing us down the path that worked for them. While many of us Gen-Ys complain about how we can’t find work, let’s not forget that those horrible boomers also provided us the LUXURY of taking our time to figure out life, travel, make mistakes, and follow our passions in ways they never could. Boomers were simply trying to give us the life they had to give up yet we fault them much like they fault us for being the out of the box, independent, idealistic beings that they raised us to be. Let’s move beyond pointing fingers. LEARN from the boomers in your life, they have experience that we can use to our advantage so find a mentor. They worked hard to get to where they are and, especially the older boomers, know what you are going through because they went through the same thing! TEACH them how to maximize on the technology that they know they aren’t using to its full potential. You might just end up getting in at the ground level for the next big thing!