4 Ways to Harness Boomer Brainpower

Boomers have experience that's important to keep organizations going long after they've left. (Photo of kids at Woodstock by Ric Manning, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.)

With all the talk about how Gen Y is transforming the workplace, it’s important to remember this: Gen Y may have relaxed the workplace with game tables and free snacks, but boomers rewrote American culture during the swinging `60s. Boomers have traits we must preserve in the workplace before the generation retires. But most companies aren’t prepared to transition their wisdom to the younger generations.

In October, talent solutions firm Hudson published The Great Generational Shift, a report that identifies key differences in generational traits that will re-shape the workplace. Based on 28,000 individual psychometric assessments, the report breaks down each generation’s tendencies. Here are four ways to harness boomer brainpower at work.

1. “Shaken, not stirred.” James Bond’s martini manifesto represented the prevailing leadership style for a whole generation: decisiveness. According to The Great Generational Shift study, decisiveness is much stronger in boomers compared to Gen Y and Gen X.

Gen Y, in particular, works collaboratively. While a collaborative team approach has many benefits, it also can lead to fewer leadership opportunities for younger workers.  Also, committee mentality can delay decision-making and lead to missed opportunities. Companies need to provide leadership opportunities to younger employees and pair them with boomer mentors. They also should create learning programs based on decision-making frameworks and strategies.

2.  “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction.” Because much of Gen Y was raised with that “everyone gets a participation trophy” experience, they’ll be singing along with the Rolling Stones if those expectations aren’t managed.

Not everyone is going to win all the time, and that goes for salary, title, promotions and pay increases. But it’s not always the best career decision to just quit and go elsewhere. Opening up communication around career advancement expectations will lead to enhanced employee satisfaction and reduced turnover.

Younger workers should be encouraged to share their career goals, and boomers can coach younger employees how to look for and create new opportunities within the organization. Boomers also can guide younger colleagues on developing longer-term career and educational strategies to meet goals.

3. “Don’t trust anyone over 30.” Jack Weinberg made this phrase famous during UC Berkeley’s Free Speech Movement in 1964 — he’ll turn 75 in 2015. While the boomers may not trust anyone over 30, they are used to hierarchical structures in the workplace.

Gen Y’s top traits include ambition, curiosity and social confidence and their boomer parents taught them to question things. Given boomers’ propensity for workplace hierarchy, Gen Y’s questioning ways may be perceived as questioning boomers’ authority.

Companies are well served to institute generational behavior training to build trust and to make each generation aware of the others’ natural inclinations. Teach all employees to avoid judgments — i.e., the kid in jeans and a T-shirt may transform your IT department — and embrace change in order to thrive in the modern workplace. This will lead to greater understanding, higher productivity and enhanced workforce satisfaction.

4. “Build me up, Buttercup.” Boomers didn’t grow up in “coaching” workplace environments, so they need to be encouraged to coach younger counterparts who expect regular feedback.

Boomers have developed more management skills over time, and management is an art that needs to be passed along. This is particularly necessary in an era of flexible work environments. Boomers can teach management skills that will prepare younger colleagues to manage everyone, including remote and flextime employees. This includes creating milestones and putting measurements in place to ensure objectives are met and what to do when they aren’t.

This article orginally appeared in Talent Management's sister publication, Chief Learning Officer.