Baby Boomers – Dealing With the Rogue Generation

7.2.15 baby boomersA recent WSJ article titled “Docents Gone Wild” outlined how many of the 10,000 Baby Boomers retiring every day for the next 14 years are volunteering as docents in the nation’s museums.

These aren’t just any mild mannered docents; these are the product of the rebel generation who grew up in a culture of resistance.  Recounting tales of some docents’ antics (killing live bugs for demo purposes anyone?) made for entertaining reading, along with some cringe worthy moments (that docent just called the tourist fat! And stupid!).  Well, where’s the surprise in their rogue anything-goes behavior, when you have a whole generation self-defining as individuals?  Really, did you expect all of them to simply do as they were told?  Some just can’t help themselves, and go just a nudge overboard, what… was it too much?

The major point is to understand generational differences when communicating with all people.  While everyone is different, still all generations can be broadly defined by traits of their age.  Of course no one can or should be pigeon-holed into a square box, but there are known generational traits based on shared experiences.  Recognizing each generation’s broad traits is important for effective communication.

Baby Boomers are split between the party-hardy career climbers of the ‘70s and ‘80s and the save-the-world revolutionaries of the ‘60s and ‘70s.  What defines this group is individuality, commitment to whatever they are doing, a desire to be involved, and a tendency to give (while seldom receive) their feedback to others; feedback which they like to give often and unsolicited.

BBs like to be in control, since their ideas are better than others, and they like to decide for themselves.  They are cynical and skeptical (hey, living through Watergate left a mark) about trusting things at face value.  Easy is better than pretty (easy care, less work to maintainwhat’s not to love?)

The biggest deal for a Boomer is relief from stress (stop harping on me and making this docent work a drag!  I’m volunteering for god’s sake – lighten up on me!)  Boomers live in the “now” as most important, not the future and not the past.  They love their leisure, love surprises (all positive), and love the exciting adventure that is work.  They are self absorbed, love to spend, and value their uniqueness.  Their view is that you are successful for having won the birth lottery!

So how do you communicate with this generation, who may be your 50-70 year old colleague/co-worker/volunteer who is hard for a Gen Xer or a millennial to understand?  Give them positive praise to feel good about themselves.  Give them data to help them get over their skepticism.  Let them have control of their good ideas, and be sure to recognize the ideas as theirs.  Take the stress of worrying away from them; we’ve got you covered.  And please help out with the technology – which is loved but also regarded with suspicion (Will it disappear into cyberspace? Will it be reliable? Recall their basic skepticism…)

You will find in Boomers committed, enthusiastic workers who can have a strong impact and can make a big difference.  But trying to rein in these rebels the wrong way will crush their spirit and they will feel rebuffed, unappreciated and will simply walk away.  When this happens, no one wins.


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