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Baby Boomers at Work: Navigating the Challenges

“I’m hearing from younger workers that Boomers take their jobs too seriously, are too wrapped up in this thing called ‘career’ and have left things kind of a mess,” said Eric Chester, founder of a consulting firm called Generation Why.

Let’s take a closer look at where these complaints come from:

Lack of Balance

Because of the sheer size of their generation, Baby Boomers have had to be markedly competitive at every step of their career. This has led many of them to equate long hours at the office with true commitment, as well as a tendency to take on relatively ambitious workloads. Fill a position of authority (they constitute most of today’s management) with this mindset, and the response can be quite adverse. Younger generations in particular report feeling frustrated by this style of leadership, as they are more apt to prefer handling their workloads socially and/or remotely.

David Stillman, co-founder of a generational consulting company called BridgeWorks, says the biggest complaint he hears about Baby Boomers in the workplace is that they won’t delegate. “Baby Boomers are not doing as much mentoring as they could or should…[and] Xers are frustrated because they want opportunities to lead,” he says.

Slow Adoption

Boomers have always had a steep hill to climb when it comes to trendy business processes. They were just stepping into the workplace when the significant technological discoveries of the ’70s went mainstream, and now, on the cusp of career renewal, they’ve been slammed with the world of social media. For them, behavioral alignment in the office has always taken a significant amount of effort.

“People who have grown up on social media are infinitely less inhibited than older generations,” explained George Clack, a Boomer and social media consultant for the Foreign Service Institute. “It can be a shocking shift of paradigms in your mind. Most people aren’t used to creating a sense of themselves as a public persona, as a brand. Kids now grow up creating a brand of themselves, even if they don’t realize it. It’s a big leap for those in their 60s. There’s a lot of reluctance.”

But still, it’s happening. In a 2011 Pew Research Center survey of more than 2,200 adults, it was found that 32% of Internet users between the ages of 50 and 64 are now using a social networking site such as Facebook, LinkedIn or Twitter on a daily basis — up from just 20% at the same time last year.

Tempering Aspiration

As with any other generation, finding the silver lining in their characteristics requires understanding them. Because Boomers were raised during a time of unprecedented growth and opportunity, only to have economical disappointment after disappointment befall their adulthood, they have a keen sense of the full scale of work endeavors. Their breadth of experience, unrelenting determination and ability to discern the dream from the reality makes them great for spotting and extinguishing potential weak spots in projects.

Further, because they prefer in-person contact, they are great at establishing and building relationships — a skill that is absolutely paramount in today’s current shift toward social business and collaboration.

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