Recently I had the opportunity to hear some current thinking on the future world of work. Three key themes emerged: technology, generational shifts, and disruption. In this second of a three part series, I’d like to tackle the impact of generational shifts on our workplace culture. (in case you missed it – here’s Part 1 about the impact of technology)
I’m sure most of you by now are aware that in less than 3 years, the millennial generation will make up 50% of the workforce. Many people are obsessing about the impact of this generation in the workplace. A simple google search on “millennials in the workplace” brings up over 121,000 news articles. Is this fixation misplaced? Quite frankly, I think enough is enough. They’re here, they’re taking over management positions – and they’re going to demand a culture that meets their needs. As leaders, you need to adapt quickly or the top talent you so desperately want and need will go elsewhere.
Where are the Baby Boomers?
The second largest group of employees in our businesses are the Baby Boomers, born between 1946 and 1964. For many years we have been hearing the doom and gloom of Baby Boomers leaving the workplace. Not only would we be losing a significant block of employees, but we would also be losing their corporate knowledge.
As it turns out, Baby Boomers have been delaying their retirement. They either stay in their existing jobs or they’re taking up part-time consulting jobs. Employees over 65 are a fast growing group in the workplace. For example in Canada, it’s been reported in 2001 there were approximately 250,000 full and part-time workers over the age of 65. By 2016, that number had grown to over 700,000 an increase of 180%!
What do Boomers want?
According to a 2015 SHRM survey, the top reasons why boomers are staying in the workplace are money, enjoyment, benefits, social interaction and challenge.
“Employers are going to have to be flexible,” says economist Philip Cross, former chief economic analyst at Statistics Canada. “Older workers really like working part-time. They also like being self-employed”. And, according to Marc Freedman, author of The Big Shift: Navigating the New Stage Beyond Midlife, “The big difference between the twenty-something and sixty-something generations is a sense of time. The young believe they have plenty of time, while for older workers time is precious. “Time is running short, and many boomers want work that also offers purpose. They too want work that gives meaning.”
Boomers in our Current Culture
Many of the jobs that were available when these keen baby boomer graduates entered the workplace are being eliminated either through automation or disruption. Think about these long term loyal employees who are struggling now to keep up with change and technology. For many of us in leadership positions there is a perception that this group of employees are becoming less and less capable in the new workplace paradigm.
The current trend is to thank these men and women for their many years of service and package them off. After all, aren’t we just putting them out of their misery at the same time as improving our productivity? But what does this say about the culture of our organizations? Are we shaping a workplace that is short sighted, inflexible and unaccepting of change?
Shaping the Culture of the Future
Have you seen the award winning comedy The Intern with Robert De Niro and Anne Hathaway? The movie demonstrates how mentoring and coaching is becoming a two way street between boomers and millennials. Baby boomers are well situated to be valuable coaches to our millennial cohort. Does your culture already embrace coaching and have you thought about internal coaches as a way to bridge the productivity of both sets of your employees?
What areas of your business need to be beefed up? Are you looking to deepen your corporate social responsibility? This may be an area where your experienced employees may find an interest, a new purpose. What about new opportunities? Many older employees are starting up their own businesses. If you had a culture of innovation and entrepreneurship would they find a home within your organization? Could this result in a new revenue stream for your organization?
Not everyone is passing on retirement. Today approximately 250,000 Canadians retire from the workforce every year. This number is expected to climb to 400,000 within a few years. A labour shortage is potentially on our doorstep and some industries are feeling it already. If you want to remain competitive, you need to design your culture to appeal to top talent – and that includes the top talent across all generations.