Bye Bye Boomers: Who Will Fill your Workforce Gap?
Were you born between 1946 and 1964? If so, then you’re the subject of much discussion.
It’s becoming clear that your generation is about to leave a huge gap in the workforce due to the ongoing retirements.
Baby boomers is the name of your generation. The name comes from the “boom” in child birth right after the end of the World War II. With an improving economy, many children were born in the period between 1946 and 1964.
As of 2019, the oldest boomer is 73 years old with the youngest being 55. Some have already retired while others are on their way to retirement.
According to a studies, approximately 10,000 baby boomers are turning 65 every day. This is a big number and many vacancies are being created on a daily basis as they retire.
There are several concerns arising from this situation. But for businesses, the major one is in regards to filling those vacancies.
Looking at the current workforce in general, the gap being left behind is not an easy one to fill.
A DEEPER LOOK AT THE BOOMERS’ RETIREMENT SITUATION
Some companies allow employees to work past their retirement age for various reasons. One of those reasons is discussed below as part of the solution to this situation.
It happens that as employers become more anxious about the future of their companies, those retiring are also anxious. You would expect this generation to be eager to stop working after so many years, but
that is not the case.
There are at least three reasons:
- Lack of enough savings – baby boomers, at least a majority of them, do not have enough savings. They either didn’t save enough, or they started saving late. As a result of this, they heavily rely on social security.
Obviously, this is not enough and that is why they’re working to supplement that income with a salary.
- Pending debts – many in this generation are still struggling with debt in their old age. Much of this debt is mortgage. To keep their homes, they have to pay up. Since social security alone cannot sustain the payments plus other expenses, working ends up being the only solution.
- High costs of healthcare – healthcare costs have been a big challenge for baby boomers. Although they planned for it, they largely underestimated the costs involved.
Many assumed that Medicare will handle everything. It then becomes a shock to later learn that Medicare doesn’t handle long-term care and other expected aspects of medical care. What do they do? The easiest thing to do is continue working.
Continued working may be viewed by others as being unfair and being unwilling to make room for younger employees.
But the truth is that employers are also afraid of letting boomers go.
HOW THE BABY BOOMER RETIREMENT IS AFFECTING ORGANIZATIONS
If an employer is part of the majority who aren’t sure how to fill the impending gap, then he is worried.
As a boomer, for all the years you’ve worked in the company, you have gained a lot of experience. This experience and expertise is what will be lacking after you leave. Apart from the skills you possess, there are other great character traits you have which have benefited the company.
These are largely connected to the uniqueness of your generation. These center on work ethic, a sense of responsibility, self-discipline and mental focus. These are some of the identifiers of a baby boomer.
These qualities have dominated the top positions in many companies as well as other important positions. The absence of these attributes without a fitting replacement spells danger.
Here are some ways in which the impact is being felt.
Loss of an Extremely-Dedicated Workforce
As a baby boomer, you’ve been working for a long time. Apart from the number of years, your generation is also known to willingly work long hours. This is because it believes in working hard.
This trait is part of the definition of your work ethic. You stand out as employees who will go the extra mile to ensure the work gets done well and on time.
You’re also credited with the ability to work well under pressure. This is a desirable trait in many companies—whether a product or service-based company. As you’ll see below in the section about possible successor generations, not everyone shares this trait.
Loss of Loyal Employees
Whereas millennials are known to be job hoppers, boomers are known to be loyal employees. You are likely to have worked in a maximum of two different companies.
Instead of seeking growth through working for several employers, you have grown through promotions in the same company. With your characteristic loyalty, your employer definitely likes you.
So, what does your departure mean to him?
He will have to embrace different types of employees. Though this is not a bad thing, the problem is that change is not always welcome. Change is disruptive and disruption pushes you out of your comfort zone.
Being out of your comfort zone is often seen as a dangerous thing since you have no control.
Loss of Experienced Employees
Your long tenure at the same company and hard work gave you another badge: that of great experience.
This is one of the biggest losses your employer is staring at. It’s unfortunate that not enough skills have been transferred from your generation to the others. This has a big impact.
The tasks which need some form of hands-on specialization will soon be challenging to complete.
It’s going to be a situation of going back to the drawing board. And considering that other generations are not as patient to learn as you are, it’s definitely going to be an uphill task.
Change in Workplace Culture
Every generation has its own way of working. An office full of baby boomers has a different atmosphere compared to one full of millennials.
Traditionally, younger employees have had to adapt to the work environment dominated by older staff. It seems that now the tables are turning. Not against the older generation but against what has been long labeled as the norm.
If you remain in the workplace, you’ll be experiencing some nostalgia.
You’ll be wishing the good old days were here with you. You might even be telling those stories to your younger colleagues.
Hoping they don’t find those days weird, organizations will have to make changes. And as an employee, you’re going to need to adapt.
A beautiful thing about changing workplace culture is that anyone can drive the change. It doesn’t have to be started by the top management even though they’ll need to be deeply involved.
That means that an employee who sees the dangers of the workplace culture not changing can start the conversation. And if he does it well enough, promotions are always available.
Watch the below video for tips on this.
WHICH INDUSTRY IS MOST AFFECTED?
There is one industry that stands to feel the biggest impact in this departure.
That is the manufacturing industry. This is arguably one of the biggest industries still employing many boomers.
Manufacturing has for long been known as a mechanical and manual job.
And considering that current job seekers are not very excited about that kind of job, there is a big problem on the horizon.
Just how do you get someone who has grown up playing with tablets and smartphones to work using metals and plastic? And if there are absolutely no other job opportunities and this is picked, how much enthusiasm will there be in the job?
Manufacturers are facing a trying time.
Another problem is the perception of many about factories being dirty and noisy places.
Who really wants that?
But as you may know since you’ve worked there, manufacturers have also embraced technology.
You don’t even need to go far to see this. In any case, hasn’t there been a debate about how machines will take over jobs?
These machines are however there to help make the work easier—maybe even more fun. At the end of the day, it may be just an issue of the mindset one has.
All the same, mindset or not, manufacturers know too well the challenges lying ahead.
FILLING THE GAP
It’s already happening and no amount of continued work into the golden years will stop boomers from leaving the workplace.
The challenges at hand are many and business owners and managers know that solutions are needed.
So, what’s to be done?
There are only two generations which can fill the gap left behind by baby boomers. These are the generations X and Y.
As much as generation Z already exists and some of them are already in the workplace, those cannot really fill the gap.
First of all, they’re still very young and compared to generation Y, there are differences which make their adaptation even more difficult. Any employer seeking to use them to replace the boomers will face a more difficult task.
The gap and differences in character traits are simply too big. That will require a very big change in a very short time. For that reason, we will only look at the candidacy of generations X and Y.
This generation is also known as Gen Xers.
This is the generation that has received very little attention. All over the internet, you will find news and articles about baby boomers and millennials but very little about this generation.
Born between 1965 and 1980, the oldest is currently 54 years old while the youngest is 39 years old. The older ones may have some characteristics similar to those of the boomers since they were born almost at the same time.
This generation is however quite different in some ways.
Here are some of their characteristics:
- work-life balance – this generation is the one that is championing the push for a better work-life balance. Most of them have families and need time to spend at home. They want to be part of their children’s lives and for the married ones, they want to spend time with their spouses.
Because of this push, some employers have started developing policies to allow for it. There are now work-from-home options with some even allowing shorter work hours during the weekdays.
- Adaptive to technology – although they were not born when tablets and smartphones were common, at least the internet was coming of age. This means that they grew up knowing what the internet was as well as having access to a mobile device.
This has helped them adapt to technology. As much as they may not be the first to embrace new technology, they easily adapt and make use of it where necessary.
- Loyalty – Generation X has some level of loyalty to their employers. Although it is not to the level of boomers, they are certainly more loyal than millennials. This is one reason we believe they are the best fit for some of the positions being left vacant by retiring boomers.
Loyalty has many benefits to the organization. One benefit is that loyalty breeds flexibility.
That means that this generation can make some personal changes so as to take up roles they weren’t really looking for.
The organizations will however need to create conducive environments.
Rewards, higher salaries and overall motivations will also need to be put in place to make them more willing to make the changes required. Training will also be necessary for some positions.
- Self-reliance – this is another trait shared with the boomers. This generation grew up taking responsibilities thus developing this trait of putting in the required effort. Although they appreciate teamwork, they are also able to make sacrifices to finish what needs to be finished.
- Skeptical and suspicious – gen X employees have a characteristic skepticism and will not always be quick to embrace new ideas. This is especially when the change is a big one. In fact, most of the people skeptical of automation are the Gen Xers.
Organizations seeking to raise this generation to fill the boomer vacancies need to introduce change gradually. They should communicate it well in advance and even collect opinions before implementing new measures.
Generation Y (Millennials)
Now to the most popular generation—the millennials. These are the people born between 1981 and 1995.
Millennials have been discussed all over the media and the comments made have not been very positive. You may have heard of them being described as lazy, disloyal, feeling entitled, arrogant etc.
As much as such conclusions are usually based on observations, the truth is that these conclusions are not very balanced. Labeling a whole generation as lazy only means that you haven’t really understood it.
To fully understand a generation—and this is the reason they are categorized by birth years—you have to look at what defined their upbringing.
The people labeling millennials often wonder why they aren’t fitting into the “norm” which is defined by the boomers and Xers. However, the millennials are at the same time wondering why these generations can’t be “normal.”
So, whose “normal” should we adapt to?
Here are some traits which employers need to keep in mind when dealing with millennials.
- They expect transparency – in contrast to the Gen Xers who are skeptic and suspicious, millennials are quite trusting. This opens them up to potential exploitation. But woe unto you if they discover that you’re not genuine.
Once you lose their trust, it’s very difficult to regain it. And being the well-connected generation, the news will spread faster than you can say sorry. This is one of the reasons online reviews are powerful and well guarded by brands.
In dealing with millennials, do your best to keep your word. When drafting agreements, minimize the number of terms and conditions and use simple and clear language. Do not tell them one ting then later claim something else. Just be open.
- Information availability – the digital age has made information available and that is what millennials are used to. Companies used to keeping information only available to top management will have a hard time coping with this generation.
Millennials want to have information available so they can look at it and make the decisions which suit them. To them, failing to provide information means you are trying to hide something.
Obviously, not all information can be made available. But whatever helps employees make more informed decisions should be availed. It will even be better if the information is provided before it’s requested for.
- Multi-taskers – whereas they may be seen as those with very little concentration power, millennials see themselves as multi-taskers. And indeed they are.
Multitasking happens at all levels. From work to social. It’s not difficult to see one speaking with a friend while chatting with another on the phone. For millennials, this is a productivity hack and it works well for them.
They even wonder why others aren’t adopting it.
Check out this video of a millennial teenager multitasking. He’s doing his homework, playing therapist, ordering pizza while also solving computer problems. His baby boomer mother, aware only of the homework, wonders why the millennial isn’t going to the library.
- Quickly and easily embrace change – navigating change is not a problem at all for millennials. This is largely due to their social nature. They often get to know about new trends from their friends and in order to stay connected, will quickly embrace the new.
Since technology is the driving force behind much change, it has also contributed to their ability to quickly adapt. New technology is increasingly being designed to be easy to use. This enables millennials quickly adopt the new.
In any ever-changing environment, millennials are the best fit. You will find them in the technology industry due to this trait.
- Seek inclusion and diversity – since they are very connected, millennials have interacted with many people even from different parts of the world. They also happily embrace diversity and expect the same from the companies they work for.
Since their friends embrace them, they expect to be embraced even when donning clothes and hair styles others deem unfit for the office. For them, it’s a show of freedom and they expect to be allowed to enjoy it.
BRIDGING THE GAP BETWEEN THE GENERATIONS
This section will show you how to bridge the gap between the generations. And after reading it, you’ll see that it’s very possible for the different generations to co-exist peacefully.
The only requirement is mutual understanding.
These generations are very different from the boomers and they’re the ones organizations will have to pick from in filling job vacancies. For that reason, it’s important to learn how to bridge the gap.
For organizations already working with these three generations, they have the opportunity to prepare in advance. If your boomers are already retiring, make the best of the remaining time.
If you still have some time before they retire, then move with speed and implement the below measures. They will help you manage the situation better and you’ll avoid unnecessary challenges.
Change Your Workplace Culture
As already seen, the biggest challenge with multi-generational workplaces is that they don’t understand one another.
Failing to understand the story behind the generation brings about confusion and misunderstanding.
The best way to deal with this situation is to create an environment conducive for mutual respect.
The older staff should hold the view that being young doesn’t mean millennials have nothing to offer. Likewise, millennials should understand that being old doesn’t mean boomers can’t get the job done.
Both of these generations, if left to themselves and asked to prove their worth, they will do the required work. The only difference will be the means of achieving their goals.
A workplace culture of mutual respect and appreciation should be entrenched in the company policy. The implementation should however not be a legal issue but more of a fun experience.
The management can have, as part of the onboarding process, time for describing the background of the workforce.
New employees can be told of the benefits of the diverse workforce. They can also be asked what they will do to blend in and suggest more ways of benefiting from the diversity.
Implement Two-Way Mentorship Programs
Mentorship is often seen as the training of a younger person by an older experienced person. This is very okay. But if we consider the part about experience and ignore the age part, we can have a unique take on mentorship.
This is referred to as the two-way mentorship program.
In the work environment, boomers are the more experienced in terms of the work itself and the industry in general.
The millennials, and the Gen Xers to some degree, are experienced in new innovative solutions. If these solutions can be implemented, the organization will enjoy improved efficiency.
Since the work, industry as well as technology expertise and experience are required, everyone can learn from the other.
As long as the right environment has been created, the younger tech-savvy staff can train the older ones. In doing this, they’ll be helping their older colleagues catch up with new trends and the whole company will move together in unity.
At the same time, the older ones can teach their younger colleagues how specific operations are done. While at it, they can also explain why the procedures used are preferred and whether changes can be done.
It’s all about having an open mind and willingness to learn.
Create Cross-Generational Teams
Having learned and now appreciating others, the next step is to form teams consisting of staff from different generations.
If there is a project to be worked on, it should not just have younger employees simply because they are fast and energetic. It should be inclusive enough to accommodate all age groups as much as possible.
If you need the work to be finished fast, this will obviously not happen. But would you rather finish a project quickly or have your employees enjoy the work and learn from one another as they work?
If you stick to preferring maximum productivity, it will cost you in the long run. The rushed deadlines will make people only interact when necessary and with limited time.
Those who are slow (boomers) will be shunned by those who are fast (millennials). In the end, the experience and knowledge which the boomers have will be missing in the Gen Xers and millennials who remain.
The whole idea of having a work environment suitable for genuine and friendly interactions is to facilitate skills transfer. The friendships formed will cause an increase in productivity since teamwork will be improved.
Provide Onboarding for Younger Leaders
They should be helped to understand why things are done the way they’re done. In case they have any questions or suggestions for changes, they should be listened to. Their ideas should also be considered.
This is because people have different leadership styles.
Gen Xers will lead differently from millennials. Still, among both generations, there will be different perspectives and motivations since people are unique.
Young leaders should feel comfortable and know that they have the support of the leaders at the higher levels.
Although it may seem a difficult time for many organizations, it can also be seen as an opportunity to improve.
Creating a work culture where all employees are valued despite their age will greatly benefit the company. And with information about the characteristics of the generations likely to fit the vacancies, it’s easier than ever to plan ahead.
Use the above tips for bridging the generational gap at work and see your transition process becoming simpler.
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