With the last of the U.S.’ 76 million Baby Boomers set to turn 65 in 2029, uncertainty lies ahead. Who is going to fill their formidable shoes as they exit the workforce? The answer to this question — and the future of the American economy — is simple: the Millennials. Unfortunately, the issue itself is much more complex. Here’s what every business leader needs to know.
The Clash of the Titans
Until recently, the Baby Boomers, those born between 1946 and 1964, were the largest generation in American history. This generation still occupies the majority of senior-level management roles. But while 10,000 Baby Boomers turn 65 every day and will continue to do so over the next fifteen years, CEO ages are not declining in correlation. Why not? To begin with, the average age of retirement has risen from age 57 to age 62 over the past two decades alone. This is characteristic of what we know about Baby Boomer attitudes toward retirement: while 27% want to retire at age 64 or younger, a whopping 63% want to retire after the age of 65. The remaining 10% never want to retire at all.
While what the Boomers want factors into the equation, what’s inevitable is even more relevant: estimates suggest that a decade from now, there will be 10 new retirees for each single entrant into the workforce in this country. What happens between then and now is critical in terms of weathering the transition from Boomers to Millennials and positioning organizations for success.
Matter of Perspective
So this begs the question: just who are the Millennials?
This much we can agree on: also known as Generation Y, Gen Next, and Echo Boomers, this group of 79 million young Americans born between 1981 and 2000 usurped the title of largest generation from the Baby Boomers, and is expected to flood the workforce as the Baby Boomers retire. But aside from their sheer numbers – 20% greater than their Generation X predecessors — what makes the Millennials different from the generations that came before? Well, that depends on who you ask.
We are all products of our environments, and perhaps no generations are evidence to this as much as the Baby Boomers and the Millennials. While the Baby Boomers are typically known for their collective belief in individuality, independence, boundaries, and “command-and-control” approach to management, the highly educated Millennials take a much less linear approach and are characterized by the quest for personal enrichment, flexibility, and transparency. They are also keenly aware not only of their demographics’ magnitude, but also of their impact on the environment.
But bridging the generation gap isn’t simply a matter of understanding; it’s also a matter of managing perceptions, which can vary widely between generations and within the workplace. Consider this: while 65% of Millennials consider themselves to be “people-savvy,” only 14% of HR professionals would agree. Even more notably, a massive 82% of Millennials think of themselves as loyal to their employers, while just one percent of HR professionals concur. These intergenerational discrepancies exist across a number of metrics, including tech (35% vs. 86%), work ethic (86% vs. 11%) and even their attitude toward recreation (14% vs. 39%).
Ready or Not…
Ready or not, the Millennials are coming. Millennials will represent 75% of the global workforce by 2030. The “trick” to managing this succession lies not only in understanding their expectations and delivering on them, but also in motivating the Baby Boomers to do the same. Because ultimately it’s not just a matter of giving Millennials what they want, but also inspiring departing Baby Boomers to want to give it to them. In the coming weeks, we’ll take a closer look at how to maximize the potential of Millennials in the workplace, along with how to best support Boomers in handing over the keys.
1). Colby, Sandra L., and Jennifer M. Ortman. “The Baby Boom Cohort in the United States: 2012 to 2060.” The Baby Boom Cohort in the United States: 2012 to 2060 (2014): n. pag. May 2014. Web. <https://www.census.gov/prod/2014pubs/p25-1141.pdf>.
2). Maximizing Millennials in the Workplace (2012): n. pag. UNC Kenan-Flagler Buisness School. UNC. Web. 11 Mar. 2015. <https://www.kenan-flagler.unc.edu>.
3). What HR Pros Think of Millennials.” Bucking the Stereotype. Beyond, 12 June 2013. Web. 11 Mar. 2015. <https://www.beyond.com/articles/infographic-shows-what-hr-pros-think-of-millennials-12625-article.html>.