For better or worse, the Baby Boomers are staying in the workplace much longer than they—and their successors—had anticipated at the turn of the 21st century. Not only are they staying under duress—both their retirement plans and savings have been reduced because of the recent recession—they are also taking positions that pay much less than their former jobs. This makes them cranky.
If the Baby Boomers are cranky, Generation Xers are furious. For nearly five decades now, this smaller “sandwich” generation has followed the Baby Boomers through the marketplace and workplace. Generation X is smaller in number than the Baby boomers by an estimated 30 million members. The Baby Boomers represent nearly one-quarter of the US population, with an estimated 65 million members of the cohort still alive. That means that Generation X has been waiting to take over the corner office for more than 30 years, and it looks like they’ll have to wait a little longer still.
Jeff Gordinier, author of X Saves the World: How Generation X Got the Shaft But Can Still Keep Everything From Sucking, clearly believes that the Baby Boomers have had their time and should be moving on. He’s quoted in a Time magazine interview as saying:
“All the mass-media oxygen seemed to be sucked up by baby boomers and millennials. The baby boomers were turning 60, and that's all you heard about. How the boomers were turning 60 and they were still sexy and they're hot and they're launching their second acts…"
Gordinier is speaking for many of his generation. I presented a workshop on generations in the workplace a few years ago for a manufacturing company that employed many more Baby Boomers than other generations. In the management group I was speaking to, I noted only one 30-something in the crowd. He sat slumped through the presentation, nodding grimly when I talked about waiting for promotions, for pay increases, for a crumb from the table—any crumb. Finally, I addressed him directly. “It’s not fun being you, is it? How many people in the company have to die before you get your promotion?” I was simply asking for comic effect, but he delivered a laconic response that stole the show: “I have a list,” he muttered darkly.
The Millennial generation (born in the early to mid 1980s to mid-2000) will be about 100 million strong, according to demographers, and this generation has its own issues with Baby Boomers in the workplace. One young worker asked my advice about mentoring. “I don’t understand why the older women [Baby Boomer age] in the office are so cold and unhelpful. I’m like, really nice to them, and they just refuse to help me learn anything I need to know. What’s up with that?” It never occurred to this 20-something that once she learns the job, she will be able to perform it competently for about half the salary of her more experienced peers.
Twenty years of experience and well-honed survival instincts are sometimes the only thing standing between the Boomers and a pink slip. David Mamet may have had it right when he said, “Old age and treachery will always beat youth and exuberance.” Boomers are counting on it.