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Boomers: Peace Or Pandemonium At Work?

Watch out below! Just when we thought the workplace was free from intolerance, today’s young professionals are bumping into age discrimination on their way to the top. For years we heard about women hitting their head on the metaphoric glass ceiling, never able to move higher on the ladder to success and get ahead of their male counterparts in the business world.

Watch out below! Just when we thought the workplace was free from intolerance, today’s young professionals are bumping into age discrimination on their way to the top. For years we heard about women hitting their head on the metaphoric glass ceiling, never able to move higher on the ladder to success and get ahead of their male counterparts in the business world. Today we’re hearing about the gray ceiling as a result of the massive numbers of Baby Boomers who consume most of the senior-level positions in today’s businesses, making it increasingly difficult for the under-40 performers to move up.Consider the stories of these three young professionals I heard from just this week:

  • After being named a salon’s top revenue-generator for two years in a row, the Gen Y stylist approached her Boomer manager about moving up into a new position within the company. Instead of promoting her, the manager gave her a $150 bonus and told her there was nothing else that could be done. The stylist left the salon to work independently and a considerable number of customers left with her.
  • A Gen X school administrator interviewed teachers for an open position. An enthusiastic Gen Y applied and so did a Baby Boomer. The Boomer candidate stated in her interview that she didn’t want the job, but was taking it so she could collect a salary for the next few years prior to retirement. Nevertheless, because this teacher had considerably more experience, the school administrator was advised to hire the Boomer.
  • A Gen Xer was hired to re-energize a foundation’s programs and outreach efforts. The youngest person on staff, she reports to management and a board comprised of people twice her age. When she approached her superiors about hiring other young professionals for the purpose of succession planning and building a diverse workforce, they shot her idea down saying they had hired one Gen Xer and that was enough.

Ouch! Is it possible that gray-ceiling incidents are treading close to reverse age discrimination?I think it’s likely that we will begin to hear more about age discrimination as more Xers and Ys enter the workforce in the coming years, much like we heard about sex discrimination as more women entered the workforce in the 1980s and early 1990s?In August 2006, Fortune magazine published an article titled, Are you stuck in middle management hell?. The article features the stories of many Xers who have been unable to move upward and onward because of Boomer management.One Xer was quoted as saying, “Youthfulness is valued in the workforce because it's seen as with-it and relevant, but it's a paradox. The senior managers in their 40s and 50s are paranoid about keeping their own jobs, so they do everything they can to keep you down.”While it’s hard for me to believe that Boomers are purposely ousting the Xers and Ys, I do believe they are more comfortable ‘sticking to their own kind’. That’s why we’re hearing more about prolonging retirement, and not nearly enough about succession planning and bringing up the next generation of employees and executives.Let’s face it. The Boomers differ from the Xers and Ys in nearly every way. The generations possess different work ethics, values, needs, and interests, so the challenges of working together are evident.And the Boomers have their pride, too. The Boomers worked tirelessly to build the businesses of America. Their generation is the very essence of loyalty and legacies and deserves and wants respect and admiration of younger generations.But herding the Boomers together to create a gray ceiling isn’t going to benefit anyone or any company in the long run.While loyalty and legacies are valuable, important, and very respectable, the approaching retirement wave should be a valuable reminder that succession planning is of the utmost importance.The time is now to focus on a new generation of leaders who will create their own legacies, as well as carry out the legacies the Boomers began. If we fail to focus on the next generation, we fail our businesses, families, economy, and country.Undoubtedly, the Boomers play a key role in our country’s ability to bridge the talent gap. They have wisdom to share, and a workforce to recruit and retain. They are also setting the tone as to whether this is going to be a time or peace or a time of pandemonium in America’s workforce.If the Boomers insist on sticking to their own kind, pandemonium will ensue and Xers and Ys will seek their revenge sooner or later. Right now, they are seeking it in business start-ups and leaving corporate America in overwhelming numbers.Babson Women’s Business Blog addresses this point candidly: “Boomers! You may have paved the way, but the next generation has seen the enemy (er…ceiling) and it is you.”So what will it be, Boomers? Will you extend peace-making efforts to the Xers and Ys and meet their demands for less hierarchy and more opportunity in the workforce?Or will you continue to ignore their pleas and wait for conformity?Here’s some advice: If you want to win the war for talent, give peace a chance.

Sarah Sladek

Concerned about declining engagement in our nation’s membership associations, non-profits, and workplaces, Sarah Sladek founded XYZ University, the nation’s first and only generations-focused training and engagement strategy company, in 2002.

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