Posted by Sophie Knox on 11 December 2014
The baby-boomer generation is handing over the baton. As they head into retirement age, how will their absence be felt in the workforce?
Born from 1946 to 1964, members of the baby-boomer generation have dominated the personnel of companies for years. Their values and expectations have shaped the workforce, but as their roles are left vacant and Generation X slides into their executive and senior roles, Generation Y and Generation Z are waiting in the wings to occupy the bulk of the workforce. So how will all these new generations in the workplace change the nature of business as we know it? And how do workers feel about the loss of the baby boomers?
The baby-boomer generation is renowned for its dogged work ethic and, in harsh comparison with the up-and-coming generations, fierce company loyalty. According to recent Robert Half research, respondents view leadership as the most important loss to the business, with 37 per cent of members in large businesses and 36 per cent of public-sector workers concerned about the lack of leadership on the horizon. When asked how concerned they are about losing the baby boomers to retirement in the next two years, 31 per cent are very concerned and 33 per cent are somewhat concerned. So what kinds of changes and preparations should businesses be making to counter their concerns?
Establishing diversity in the workplace
White middle-class men from conservative backgrounds largely populated the baby-boomer workforce. We’ve come a long way since those days, after Australia’s multicultural explosion and women’s liberation brought a new breed of worker to the market. However, once the baby-boomers approach retirement age, even greater diversity in the workplace will be necessary to properly reflect today’s composition of society. More women will begin to occupy executive and chairperson roles, and it will become important to break down occupational gender segregation so the best candidates fill roles. Emotional intelligence and people skills will be as valuable as other, more traditional skills.
As the globalisation of industry takes off, it will also become critical to hire multilingual workers and encourage ethnic diversity. Increasingly, business growth is occurring outside domestic markets, so populating staff with those who can reflect that geographical diversity by speaking foreign languages and possibly by working from those countries will be vital to successful communication and outcomes.
Managing the intergenerational shift
As life expectancy and general health improve, the age of retirement creeps up. While senior workers are hanging on to the last years of their careers, companies should be productive by using this time to mentor and transfer knowledge and leadership skills to Gen Xers.
It’s also worth preparing for the distinctly different approaches and management styles of the younger generations. For example, Generation X values greater flexibility, work-life balance and personal fulfilment over financial incentives. Gen Xers prefer less formality and dependence on hierarchy, and prefer to work ‘smarter’ versus the baby-boomer mantra of working ‘harder’. All these factors will contribute to a need for a cultural change and different management styles.
At the same time, making hasty decisions when recruiting will not help in the long term – avoid making desperate hires to ensure the organisation succeeds.
Members of Generations X, Y and Z will simply move on if employers don’t provide succession plans and work fulfilment. Companies without desirable employment and retention strategies will be susceptible to high turnover rates and expensive recruitment costs.