Monday, October 15, 2007

Generational Divide May Be Overblown

They're energetic, often launching businesses they feel passionate about. They are committed to helping others, and want to make sure they have time to do the things in their private life they love doing, such as traveling, or spending time with family and friends.

Think I'm talking about GenY? Think again -- I'm referring to those over 50.

While there has been a lot of press given to GenY and the impact they will have on the workplace, a real shift has been taking place on the other end. The over 50 crowd -- those baby boomers who have dominated the American workplace for generations -- aren't quite ready to ride off into the sunset.

A record 24.6 million Americans age 55 and over are still on the job, a huge shift from what has been seen in the past. AARP found that 69 percent of people age 45 to 74 are working, or planning to work, in some capacity after retirement.

Why the change? One reason is that many can't afford to retire because of rising healthcare costs, or other costs of living -- such as supporting family members --that cannot be met by Social Security or other pension income.

But many other boomers report they simply don't want to retire -- they like working and challenging themselves every day.

The really interesting part of all this is how much many of their desires match those who are sometimes half a century younger. In "70: The New 50," author William C. Byham, a Ph.D., found in his research that these workers want to help others; spend more time with family and friends; work fewer hours; have more flexibility; and take more vacation time.

Gee, that sounds awfully familiar. Exactly like what GenY is saying. Could it be that instead of spending so much time and energy touting which generation is having the biggest impact on the workplace we should be channeling our energies towards these generations helping one another meet their goals?

Of course, there are differences. GenY is often referred to as narcissistic, money hungry and a great desire to be famous.

Still, I've worked with enough GenYers to know that they are not that different from where we all want to be -- financially stable, doing work we love, making a positive impact on those around us, being treated with respect for our skills and abilities, and enjoying life with good friends and family. In that regard, there is no generational difference on the job...just a real desire for the same thing.



Anonymous said...

Can’t help but agree with you Anita! As a boomer on the cusp of 50, I’ve found myself with goals and dreams today that are similar to those of a Gen Y-er. And I’m not the only one of my age group. Let other bloggers and commentators cite a generational gap in workplace priorities and call us old-fashioned (Boomers: Does this sound familiar?). There are more similarities than differences: We want success on our own terms; we yearn to spend valuable time with our families and friends; and some of us may not have the money to live a comfortable retirement. If, after our kids have left the nests, we settle down in smaller homes while working part time and stretching our dollars, we’ll take pride in how we imparted the values of work without sacrificing the joys and responsibilities of raising the next generation. If those are also Gen Y priorities, then we must have done something right.

Anita said...

GenY often talks about how they're pressuring employers to make changes, but I think those pressures are coming from all generations of the workforce. And that's a great thing...because changes are much more likely if employers see this as a labor/productivity/bottom line issue rather than just a generational one. Thanks for adding to the dialogue!