What I like about being a working Boomer is that I get to live in two worlds: the world of older adults I was born in, and the world of Millennials and Gen Xers I work in. What I dislike about being a working Boomer is the name. Our parents are the highly lauded Greatest Generation and we’re called Boomers? It’s straight out of a Batman comic – Pow! Bam! Wham! Zap! Boomer! Really?
But despite the name, we’ve survived and now occupy the cat bird’s seat atop the workplace ladder – if you consider age. For me, working is a creative outlet and a multi-generational connector. Working pads the family coffers (who ever heard of being too rich?), gets me in conversations with people smarter than I am, and links me to technology and happy hour invitations.
So, what’s it like to work with us Boomers? What’s different about us and Gen Xers and Millennials? The obvious answer to the last question is we are way, way older, especially those of us in our 60’s and 70’s. (Think: granddaughter’s age = boss’s age…OMG.) So, if you look at what being “way older” brings to the table, you can understand what it’s like to work with us.
But, before we go further, I have a few disclaimers:
- The minute you generalize about a group of people, someone proves you wrong. The exception gets you every time.
- Because I am older, my frame of reference is for Boomers in their 60’s and 70’s. To me, Boomers in their 50’s seem closer to Gen Xers.
- I list Boomer traits, but I really can’t think of one Boomer I know who exhibits every single trait in equal strength, including me.
Even with these disclaimers, here are five things I think Boomers bring to work:
First, we know a lot of stuff.
We have had experiences which, on occasion, can lead to wisdom. I’m not saying we should do it the way we did in “the old days.” I don’t think we should. More accurately, I hope we don’t. And, even if we were to make the suggestion to do so, I don’t think Gen Xers and Millennials want to hear it. Times change and so must approaches. We Boomers need to “just get over it.”
But, even with changing times, human nature remains relatively constant. Ours then is knowledge earned from living through and learning from years of rich life context – emotional intelligence (EQ) in today’s terms. So, we can advise and coach (assuming we have the grace to wait until we’re asked for our opinions). Millennials need EQ, but they haven’t lived long enough to accumulate a lot of it. Gen Xer’s have enough, but sometimes they’re too busy getting ahead to take the time to use it. A Gen Xer once told a Boomer colleague of mine, “You guys need to get out of the way. It’s our turn.” Hmm, could be valid, but definitely not cool, and definitely not a shining example of emotional intelligence.
Second, we offer perspective.
Over the years, careers ebb and flow. No one I know had a straight-upward-line career path. We’ve been promoted, demoted, promoted again, and fired – some of us, more than once. We now know unless it’s a matter of life / death, physical / mental harm, or it’s illegal, things are probably going to turn out OK. We like to work hard, but we can keep it in perspective. There are things more important than work.
Third, our number one goal is the task at hand.
Long-term career goals? Had those once. Upward mobility? I’m up as far as I’m going, and, surprisingly, the air is quite pleasant here. Hidden agendas and office politics waste our time and raise our blood pressure. For us, the main complexity about work is the work itself. We can offer solutions and suggestions without ego involvement since we have little to lose or gain personally. We just want to do a good job and enjoy doing it. It’s all about personal satisfaction.
Fourth, we can work part-time, flexible hours.
Unless we need our jobs to live, we prefer to work part time or half-time or really, any time. From home or in the office. That seems like a plus for us and for the people who hire us. Part-time work and part-lime leisure keep us productive and happy. Who doesn’t like Monday matinees, four-day weekends and playing golf when the course isn’t crowded? Sounds like a Millennial, right?
And fifth, we can appreciate the moment.
The what? The moment. We appreciate it. Remember the adage: Stop and smell the roses? Well, we do that. Back in the day, we juggled the eight-to-ten-hour work day with soccer practices, teacher conferences, out-of-town travel, early-morning or late-night conference calls, work-outs crammed between lunch and a 1:00 meeting, or a sick child who deserved our attention. We did that, but we don’t do it now. Today, we have time to go slow and savor the details of life around us. We can take a moment to smile or pause to compliment work well done. We can notice when a co-worker is upset and stop to comfort. We can be patient and listen. We can bring warmth to the workplace.
I’ve listed five things Boomers can bring to work. And there may be another. I could be delusional, but I think some of the people I work with are surprised I can still cut it. And, I think even more of them are relieved I do. So, maybe that’s the sixth thing we Boomers bring. We give our younger colleagues hope and encouragement for their own futures, and that’s OK by me. I like being a good omen.