Decades ago, there were dire warnings about the crisis that would be caused by Baby Boomers retiring en masse. The crisis was averted, thanks in no small part to another crisis called the Great Recession. Today, nearly one-third of Boomers are still working. That’s actually good news for GenX and Millennials. As Baby Boomers continue to exit the workforce, albeit at a slower rate than predicted, younger generations can take advantage of the access they have to these seasoned employees to build on their own skills. Here are three things younger generations can learn from their Boomer colleagues:
The Value of Competition
Baby Boomers were called the “me generation” for a reason. The sheer size of the cohort dictated a high level of competition that Boomers grew accustomed to and that they expressed in the workplace. Today, competition gets something of a bad rap as the pendulum swings in favor of a more team-oriented and collaborative approach to work. But competition is a motivator, and Boomers know it.
Competition became less important as Generation X came of age. They were a smaller population, so there wasn’t the same natural competition that exists in a larger group. GenX also had an independent, self-reliant streak that made them less concerned with what others were doing and more focused their own things.
For Millennials, teamwork and cooperation were valued over competition, hence the “everyone-gets-a-trophy” stereotype. Competition became viewed as something negative. But framed correctly, competition can be a strong and positive motivator.
Competition fuels innovation. It can drive employees to think strategically, develop creative solutions to problems and increase productivity.
Punctuality. Professionalism. Business etiquette. Networking. Boomers who have spent decades in the workplace expect these things. But as organizations have become more reliant on technology, “people skills” seem less relevant. To younger generations, they seem downright antiquated.
Not so. Soft skills continue to be in high demand. How important are soft skills? A recent McKinsey study reported that 40% of companies are struggling to fill jobs because younger workers lack soft skills. Employers know that hard skills on their own are not enough for employees to be successful. For younger generations, making an effort to develop soft skills can make a big impact on future career success.
According to a 2016 Gallup report, 21% of Millennials say they’ve changed jobs within the past year, which is more than three times the number of non-Millennials who report the same. At the other end of the spectrum, a separate 2016 poll showed that 40% of Baby Boomers have been with their employer for more than 20 years, and of those, 18% have been with their company at least 30 years.
Workplaces evolve, of course. But having a sense of organizational history, operational knowledge and key relationships is a huge advantage as companies look to the future. Expertise is expensive, and many savvy organizations have well-developed strategies for transferring the knowledge of employees getting ready to retire to the next generation of workers. For younger employees, gaining that institutional knowledge can mean having a hand in ensuring the future success of the organization.
The diversity of skills and experience in the workforce today spans five generations. From the Traditionalists to Generation Z and everything in between, each generation has unique strengths that others can learn from. Creating an environment that encourages close collaboration and mentoring across and among the different generations is a way that ensures that those strengths are maximized.