Generation Gap Series: Communicating With BOOMERS

11.5Well, technically the label is ‘Baby Boomers’, but the Baby part is pretty unnecessary at this point, since members of this generation are currently 51-70 years old.  The reason for the label was the huge boom in births when WW II ended and the returning soldiers came home victorious and started families.  The Boomers were the largest generation in numbers ever, 40% of the population, and with them came boom times, so an apt label.

Your boss, your parent, your co-worker may be Boomers – they are still around in plentiful numbers, in the community and in the work force, although retiring in droves every year.  This generation is so large that the US economy anticipated and accommodated their needs, fueling much of the prosperity of the 50s, 60s and 70s.

From schools being built (many small neighborhood schools now empty and turned into condos), to the rise of Walmart (goods to stock all those growing households), to building construction (city apartments and suburbia) – economic growth tracked the Boomers’ needs for decades.  And now the focus is on pharmaceuticals (Boomers, the originators of the Youth Culture, now yearn to stay healthy and fight off signs of aging), travel/leisure activities (Boomers like to spend on themselves in their golden years), and assisted living/retirement communities.

So who are the Boomers?  Why are they the way they are?  How to best communicate with those feisty, independent, know-it-all control freaks? (sound like anyone you know?)

Looking in on Jim and Linda, a typical Boomer couple, tells much.  Ever since they were born, the country has experienced unprecedented opportunity, so they have unbridled optimism about future progress and earning power.  Jim and Linda have scant ‘rainy day’ savings, but Jim luckily has a sizeable 401K account – ‘forced’ savings that will be needed in retirement.

Jim met Linda in college.  He was a frat boy and she was Chi Omega – they both partied hard in the days of sex, drugs and rock and roll. Jim’s parents worked hard to hand him a debt-free education, which he considers a birthright.  Linda has a similar sense of entitlement about her success – given not earned is just fine.  Now what they both want is relief from a life of self-created stress, while still remaining in control.

They raised the ideal family, one handsome son and one beautiful daughter.  After two, they stopped – who had time for more children?  Jim had his golf, squash, and sailing; Linda was out straight with her tennis at the club, Pilates classes and the Junior League.  Little Bobby and Mary’s childhoods were barely noticed by their self-obsessed, career-obsessed parents; they grew up pretty self-sufficiently on their own.

Boomers are defined by their individuality.  It’s not one for all and all for one; it’s me, myself and I – without a common cause to strive for, they are pretty self-absorbed (oh those lofty self-improvement goals!). This lead to free spending, conspicuous consumption, and striving for all those pricey status symbols as outward signs of reaching the good life.  Or at least keeping up with the neighbors.

So you’re trying to understand that Boomer at work who baffles you with his apparent pigheadedness?  You need to work well together, so it’s worthwhile to try to learn more. The best way to communicate with a Boomer is not to box them into a catch-all category; they aren’t like everyone else.  They like to be involved, so keep them in the loop.  They love control; letting them maintain a semblance of control is important, without blatantly calling out their self-absorption.

Celebrate their vitality and youthfulness, which is a passion for some Boomers.  And help them with technology, which can make them feel threatened and insecure. Being independent-minded, they resist and resent asking for needed tech help, which hurts their productivity if they don’t get it.  They frequently give feedback to others, but seldom receive much feedback themselves.

They love work as an exciting adventure, but also look forward to leisure time as the point of life – and they are positively passionate about life. Complaining about bureaucracy at work is not a good idea – this generation created bureaucracies, so they believe in their merit.  They have a strong work ethic, high standards, a high sense of morality, and a strong commitment to the cause.

They also have a strong sense of self – self-reliant, self-serving, self-improvement – the world revolves around their own personal universe.  While everyone has a commitment to self as a means of self-protection, this generation lacked a common external force to gravitate towards and bond around, so the focus turned inward. They celebrate self and individuality as almost a religion.

No longer the major work force to be reckoned with, Boomers continue to have a sizeable impact on daily life.  Next time: the Silent Generation

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