UNDERSTANDING AND MANAGING THE BABY BOOMERS
Baby Boomers, born during the post-World War II period of unprecedented increases in the U.S. birth rate, identify with ten major generational signposts:
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1. The GI Bill. Over seven million returning soldiers took advantage of federal tuition aid to obtain postsecondary degrees. Their children, the Baby Boomers, attended college in greater numbers than any previous generation, bringing a new level of learning into the workplace.
2. Dr. Spock’s “Baby and Child Care.” Before the publication of this bestseller in 1946, parents were encouraged to withhold affection from children. Spock took the opposite tack, convincing millions of readers to celebrate, cherish, and listen to their children. When these Baby Boomers grew up, they were accustomed to being taken seriously.
3. The Soviet Union Goes Atomic. In the 1960s, many Baby Boomers experienced fear, cynicism, and fatalism as a result of the nuclear arms race, as well as the Kennedy and Martin Luther King assassinations.
4. Overcrowded Schools. The sheer number of Baby Boomers overwhelmed the public education system. Forced into larger classrooms, this generation became enamored of teamwork and working in harmony with others.
5. Brown v. Board of Education. This Supreme Court decision ended school segregation and energized the civil rights movement. Racial discrimination decreased significantly while the Baby Boomers grew up, inculcating a pride in positive culture change.
6. Television Reflects Our Angst. The Baby Boomers’ worldview was shaped by televised images of social turmoil and stories of the “good old days.”
7. The “Feminine Mystique.” Together with an explosion of other feminist writings, Betty Friedan’s “Feminine Mystique” helped convince Baby Boomers that gender equality was worth fighting for.
8. Watergate and Vietnam. Political scandal and a hugely unpopular war contributed to a general distrust of government among Boomers, who put their faith in each other instead.
9. Civil Rights Movement. The civil rights movement changed many long-accepted practices in American business, such as hiring based on race. The Baby Boomer generation became the first to appreciate the value of equal opportunity.
10. The Decadent 1980s. Economic prosperity in the 1980s saw Boomers embrace consumption and unabashedly pursue the rewards of capitalism.
Today’s employers must recognize that large numbers of Boomers intend to keep working into the foreseeable future. It is a serious mistake to treat them as “over the hill.” By being sensitive to Boomers’ signposts, managers can take the following steps to maximize their contributions and minimize the loss of their wisdom and experience:
* Do not ignore them. Boomers will respond to attention, and resent the lack of it.
* Make them mentors. Boomers can help younger workers succeed by sharing what they have learned.
* Ask for continuing contributions. Asking Boomers to recommit themselves to their jobs can energize them and unleash their creativity.
* Do not give up on them. Offering training opportunities to Boomers can be a surprisingly good long term investment.
* Deal with resistance. To maintain credibility with other workers and the respect of Boomers, it is important to deal with unproductive or unreasoning resistance to change.
* Confront negative behavior. If a Boomer’s behavior is in danger of hurting morale, the manager is obligated to confront it in a clear, honest conversation.
* Offer opportunities to volunteer. Many Boomers are excited by and grateful for company-sponsored opportunities to give back to society.