Magazine article Personnel Journal

Xers vs. Boomers: Teamwork or Trouble?

Magazine article Personnel Journal

Xers vs. Boomers: Teamwork or Trouble?

Article excerpt

Baby boomers are staying in the workforce longer and they're on a collision course with the GenerationX kids now flooding into offices. These two very different groups can start an all-out war-or become the best team players you've ever had.

Remember back in the '60s, when long-haired college kids ran around with buttons saying, "Don't trust anyone over 30," and middle managers pushing 50 responded with scornful frowns, mumbling disdain and disappointment over "today's youth"?

Well, folks, it's back, that dreaded Generation Gap-and this one looks to be a doozy. It's now those same flower kids of the '60s who are pushing 50, and a new Generation-X to be exact-is making them squirm.

No place is the clash between these two groups more evident than in Corporate America. Why? The baby boomers (typically considered as those who were born between 1946 and 1962), 76 million strong, are finally set squarely in middle age. And because of greater financial strain, a limited retirement budget and a youthful ethos, they're going to be staying in the workplace much longer than their parents did. Meanwhile, they're sharing desk space with the new kids-Generation X (born between 1963 and 1981 according to current literature)-of which there are now more than 40 million gainfully employed.

And if the friction is there today, it will only be bigger tomorrow: Each group will expand in the coming years. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, within the next decade, one out of three people in the workforce will be older than 55. And Generation X is awaiting millions more of its members to graduate from college and head to the office.

You think the '60s hosted a culture clash? Wait until you squeeze these two very different groups into adjoining cubicles day after day. How do you keep the situation from bursting into all-out war? How do you harness the best qualities of each segment while downplaying the worst? How do you aid one group without alienating the other? We've got some good news, some bad news and some suggestions.

Be flexible. The good news first. As different as these two generations may seem on the surface, they have one common need they want their employer to meet, and you may already be supplying it: flexible work arrangements-in forms from part-time jobs and flexible work hours to job sharing and telecommuting.

Flexible work arrangements will help ensure you hold on to experienced boomers -something you need to do given today's low unemployment rate (please see cover story, page 58). Also, given this group's youthful orientation, many of these workers scorn retiring at the age their parents did anyway. That magic number, 65, was incarnated back at a time when life expectancy hovered around 70. And many workers today need to work past age 65. A person leaving the workforce at 65 likely has IS to 20 years of retirement ahead-with only about a decade's worth of living expenses saved.

Despite the need and interest in working, many boomers may crave a little extra free time in their later years-and will go wherever they can to log hours and still have time for golf, the grandkids or developing their own businesses. Part-time work and job sharing just may be the answer for keeping this group on board. (See the feature article, page 40, for retiree-work-program ideas.)

On the part of Generation X, flexible work arrangements are even more of an imperative. Xers entered the workplace after this trend ceased to be novel: To them, it's just a smart way to work. In Bruce Tulgan's book, "Managing Generation X: How To Bring Out the Best in Young Talent" (Merritt Publishing, 1995), quote after quote from twenty-somethings relay the importance of being trusted to get the job donewhether that means working from noon to 8 p.m. (their peak-energy hours), working from home so they can have privacy, or even working while taking a stroll and mulling over a project. "Our generation is the one around which the term latch-key kids was invented," explains Tulgan, who is a member of the X Generation. …

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