Don't Throw The Boomer out with the Bathwater
If you’re like us, you have been seeing and reading a lot of articles about Millennials and how to attract and keep these younger generations in the workplace. Though I agree wholeheartedly with employers who see the value in this much maligned population, I do, however, feel that by shifting so much emphasis to attracting this younger generation, we are forgetting the value and importance of those who have been the foundation of our generation’s industry - the Baby Boomers. I strongly believe that organizations and employers should make it their obligation to create communities that facilitate cross-generational relationships and training.
We live in a world that puts an incredible amount of value on technological advancements - advancements that make us more dependent and less able to solve problems on our own. Before autocorrect, think about your spelling ability and compare that with how well you can write now. Think back to a time before Google. Do you remember how we all used to search for information? Dewey Decimal...what? And before smartphones, do you remember dialing up your friends to talk on the phone? Do you remember how many phone numbers you were able to memorize? I still remember my childhood phone number and I’m certain my best friend does too. Compare that with now. Do you even know your best friend’s phone number? Or even your own cell or house phone number? What I’m getting at here is that Boomers and the generations that lived for a longer period before the advent of all this technology had to do things the ‘hard’ way and, in general, they learned differently. In my opinion, they learned the best way and they are better for it - all around. We see it in the quality of their memory, their keen attention to detail, and their ability to think critically and solve problems on their own. Based on this, I believe there is great value in the generations that preceded the age of technological dependence.
One of the most intelligent men I know retired a few years ago. He was born to a family of carpenters and builders and went on to become a civil engineer. The training and knowledge base he amassed throughout his life, education, and experience is difficult to quantify. As he realized his days were too long in retirement, he began working smaller jobs as a contractor for local engineering firms. With nearly 60 years of experience behind him, his greatest obstacle in the new office was dealing with the computer systems and learning to scan and send emails from the copier. Despite these small adjustments (which he has since made), he is an invaluable asset on the projects he oversees. My father was lucky enough to have younger employees who were patient and willing to teach him how to use the new systems, but I often wonder if that is the case in other settings. If not, what an incredible loss of value over skills that are so easily teachable.
When I reflect on all of the Boomers I know, whether it be through family, friends, or professionally, I am reminded that the skills and value they possess are quite different from those which younger generations possess. And seeing how these younger generations are increasingly sought after for new positions, my greatest hope is that organizations will take the time to realize what a loss it will be if we continually focus solely on attracting and recruiting younger generations while ignoring the older ones. Of course we must attract a new and energetic workforce, but we must also take proper care and show deference to our older generations. We must work hard to build internal systems of support for the incoming Millennials so that they can be mentored by the older generations that possess such an incredible knowledge base. Boomers would be incredible mentors and would be rightfully renowned for the knowledge and experience that they possess. Millennials would equally be able to pass along knowledge about technology and other newer developments that can be harder to grasp for older generations.
I can attest that there is no greater teacher than experience. Before these stewards of experience and knowledge leave our organizations, I hope that we can learn to value all sides of the workforce and create open communities that facilitate mentorship through multi-generational partnerships.