Those who read this column regularly are well aware of the huge shifts underway as a result of the Baby Boomers’ coming exodus from the workplace. Those who aren’t familiar with the issue are invited to download my free, 45-page eBook Beating the Boomer Bust.
Almost four years ago I mused about the chances of Generation X, smaller in numbers and less accustomed to competition than the generations immediately before (Boomers) or following (Millennials) becoming another Lost Generation, much like that of the F. Scott Fitzgerald era.
Now, I’m seeing and hearing more evidence that such may be the case. A friend who works closely with the large corporations in the oil and gas industry noted a different trend in the layoffs that are accompanying the fall in prices. The Great Recession, like previous downturns, saw buyouts of many workers who were approaching retirement. This time around, companies are getting leaner by cutting less experienced workers, and keeping their more experienced core regardless of age.
I see a similar trend in smaller businesses as well. Owners who traditionally filled lower and mid-level positions by seeking younger workers are now much more inclined to hire people in their 50s and 60s. What is causing this shift?
First, there is a new expectation about employee retention. It’s well documented that workers from GenX and the Millennials are far less likely to take a job for life. Regardless of how well they are treated, younger workers take a position with the expectation that they will be moving on when they find a better opportunity, or simply when the job interferes with their chosen lifestyle.
The majority of small businesses are still owned by Boomers, and they are often more comfortable with employees who share their experience and attitudes. If a young employee has an employment life expectancy of, say, five years, why not have that position filled by someone who understands that paid time off is something that has to be accrued before it’s taken?
If you have to accomplish more work with fewer people, employers naturally want people who will stretch to get things done. Most Boomer workers accept the need to work late on occasion, and are accustomed to planning personal activities around the job. Younger people often see that as being too docile, or foolishly loyal when “It’s only a job.” Employers, on the other hand, cherish such dedication.
Boomers are generally healthier than preceding generations. They haven’t been great savers, and most plan to work longer than their predecessors. As the pace of change accelerates in almost every industry, a worker who needs little ramping up and can be expected to produce for another ten years looks better and better, regardless of any gray hair.
Not all Boomers have the skills necessary to function in today’s workplace. If you are looking for technical abilities, however, someone in their 30s (a Millennial) is likely to be faster and more savvy than someone in their mid-40s. That’s why Generation X is getting squeezed in the middle.
Of course, as another friend says, “A Millennial will figure out how to use technology to accomplish in a single day what would take a Boomer three. Of course, then he wants the other two days off.”