The Art and Science of Leading Baby Boomers

“A leader takes people where they want to go. A great leader takes people where they don’t necessarily want to go, but ought to be.” —Rosalynn Carter

baby-boomers_2613902bLast month, we gave our readers a breakdown of each generation and what, in very general terms, makes each of them tick. We also discussed that a multi-generational workplace can combine energy with wisdom; creativity with work ethic; and fresh perspectives with experience.

This not only gives the organisation an edge in the marketplace, but also provides opportunities for co-workers to help each other grow.

Today, we continue our conversation about generations by offering some food for thought on how to best lead and work with Baby Boomers in the work place.

Keep in mind that placing people in generic boxes is not always advised or effective—many times it really is about personalities and individual differences.

Motivating Baby Boomers

One of the things that set Baby Boomers apart is their work ethic and their commitment to work as long as they can. For some Baby Boomers work is a means of self-expression and adding value to the world around them. For others, it may also be a financial need: after all, this generation has been as free in spending money as they were dedicated to earning it.

The Wall Street Journal recommends identifying the motivations of the Baby Boomers in their workforce, and rewarding them accordingly. As a whole, this generation responds to involvement, praise, and status. Thus, validating the efforts of these employees and affording them recognition of work well done will go a long way. On the other hand, critical feedback may be better received in a more informal setting, for example, over a coffee or lunch.

For those Baby Boomers who can’t afford to retire, providing financial incentives and helping them bolster their investments and health care options can help keep them motivated. Presenting Baby Boomers with the chance to work part time, contractually, or work from home can also help harness their knowledge and experience; while affording them the chance to slow down.

Communicating with Baby Boomers

Baby Boomers are used to communicating in person, or over an email chain. They are also more comfortable discussing things in formal meetings as compared to text messages or water-cooler chats. They believe in long work hours, and may find it difficult to appreciate the millennial approach of working hard and partying hard.

At the same time, younger employees may report being frustrated by the practices and expectations of the Baby Boomers. Leading-edge Baby Boomers in particular, may need more time and guidance in adopting new methods of communicating; and even then they may feel at odds with their younger, faster, and more esoteric colleagues. They can easily feel frustrated when surrounded by people half their age. A witty account of these challenges is found in Dan Lyons’ latest book ‘Disrupted: My Misadventure in the Start-Up Bubble’.

How to make it all work?

A 2007 publication by AARP suggests that managers need to recognise that Baby Boomers grew up with fewer technologies at their disposal; and that they are used to a slower pace of change. A valuable tactic to keep all employees on the same page would be to hold educational sessions to help different generations understand each other’s strengths and weaknesses. This will promote understanding and respect for each other (and for each other’s habits), while also creating a collaborative environment between employees from different generations.

Baby Boomers are extremely valuable to the workforce, and part of the onus of ensuring that they are happy and productive falls on the managers—who often find it overwhelming to balance the different generations’ needs.

Are you leading or working with Baby Boomers? In your experience, for which generation do you make the most adjustments and what is your approach for communicating and motivating them?

Contribute to the conversation below and contact us if you need help understanding and leading different generations.


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