“Don’t trust anyone over 30.”
That’s what the baby boomers used to say in their anti-establishment, flower power heyday. Now, of course, the millions of people born between 1946-1964 are well past 30, and, just as they did in society as a whole, they have left their indelible mark on the workplace.
Sure, boomers might not be as quick to grasp the technologies that millennials and Gen X’ers were raised with. And sure, their workaholic tendencies might be baffling to younger workers more interested in flexible schedules. But there are some key innovations affecting all generation in the office that wouldn’t have happened without the influence of baby boomers.
And for these baby boomer legacy improvements to the workplace, we should probably be a bit more grateful as organizations continue to navigate and adapt to a transforming world of work:
ALL INCLUSIVE WORKPLACE
If you’ve watched the television show “Mad Men,” then you’re already familiar with the way offices used to look and operate pre-boomers. And if you think women were treated poorly back then, black people were treated even worse.
Boomers coined key phrases like “glass ceiling” and “workplace discrimination,” and, under their watch, people began to break through the prevailing all-white boys’ club culture. The diversity that is now championed in many offices is a direct result of the boomers’ fight for civil rights and social equality. And that’s had real business results: This new diversity of thinking helps keep companies from becoming stagnant when it comes to policies and processes.
Whether it’s redesigning office spaces and work stations to accommodate employee needs, or offering benefits like daycare for children and eldercare programs to boomers with ailing parents, this is the generation that pioneered the family-friendly workplace. Today, these kinds of programs are becoming crucial to maintaining productivity and morale — and to help businesses retain employees.
As more boomers retire, many companies will lose an enormous amount of institutional knowledge. Fields that require technical know-how will be most affected when the estimated 76 million boomers leave the workforce. As a result, many companies are putting more collaborative tools in place so that some of this knowledge can be easily shared — or even stored in the cloud. The impending departure of so many senior employees has lit a fire under management to implement new collaborative and cloud-based technologies before it’s too late. And that has irreversibly changed the way many offices manage information.
Just as the race to transfer knowledge to younger employees has forced companies to adopt new technologies, they will similarly soon have to implement changes that will allow retirees to continue to serve as consultants or part-time employees. According to an MIT report, some corporations such as Proctor & Gamble and Eli Lilly have already implemented programs that organize and pool retired talent for younger workers to access for help.
This isn’t just a result of boomers’ impending retirement: Self-employment and part-time work has exploded under boomers’ watch, as has the trend toward a more mobile workforce.
THE BABY BOOMER LEGACY
Boomers changed the workplace, and shaped the way that Generation X approaches work. And while the road has been bumpy at times, my generation and those following should appreciate the strides made by the boomers that led to today’s new world of work.
For a different look at the boomer legacy, read one millennial worker’s take.