Time to go?

Issue 56 - 01 June 2021 (7-min read)

They are holding back their organisations from progressing as they cling on to 'their' way of doing things. They are keeping bonuses and pay raises away from millennial workers. So why aren’t baby boomers retiring?

This week in The Global Tiller, we examine a new kind of challenge facing organisations: how to balance four different generations working together at the same time. What happens when such drastically different world views collide?

No matter the size of the organisation, generational conflicts are happening everywhere. It happens when your HR departments are simply unequipped to handle work-from-home, or when company leadership forces staff to sit through three-hour-long meetings when most of it could have been an email. To be fair, having millennial and Gen-Z workforce isn’t easy either. They tend to be lacking experience and industry know-how, and have unrealistic expectations of career growth.

While these situations can cause tensed work environments, there is one consequence of this generational shift that’s having a real impact on our economies. Baby boomers are putting off retirement: some because they haven’t collected enough funds to retire peacefully, some because they are in much better health than their predecessors were at retirement age, and others because they find real meaning in their work and are unwilling to look for something else fulfilling enough to boost their retirement life.

In his book 'How to Lead: Wisdom from the World’s Greatest CEOs, Founders, and Game Changers', David Rubenstein talks to some boomers who have no plans of retiring.

“What I’m doing now, and have been doing successfully for many years, is really who I am. I don’t want to retire from who I am and what I feel called to do,” says the 75-year-old Saturday Night Live producer, Lorne Michaels.

The 79-year-old infectious diseases expert, Anthony Fauci, is no different: “I’m going to do it until I feel I’m not doing it as effectively as I can. Right now, I think I’m as good as I’ve ever been, because not only do I still have the energy I had, I have a lot more experience.”

As more and more senior leaders continue to hold off their retirement plans, millennials are unable to climb up the ladder. Instead, they hop over to other organisations to negotiate higher roles for themselves. A survey by Jobvite, a recruiting site, found that 61% of employees rank career growth opportunities as the top factor when seeking a new job. 

The prevalence of boomers in the workforce isn’t just a career block for millennials and Gen-Z but also something that’s impacting overall economic productivity. Moody’s found that from 2013 to 2016, the greater a company’s share of workers 65 and older, the lower its wages and wage growth. This is likely because of boomers’ reluctance to productivity-enhancing technology, such as the use of Slack and artificial intelligence. A 2011 study in Italy also showed that at firms where older workers had to postpone retirement, younger workers’ wages grew more slowly and they received fewer promotions. 

As most of the developed world faces an ageing population, economies are likely going to face pressure on pension funds and retirement benefits. The obvious solution may be to postpone retirement age but we should not ignore the consequences it will have on the younger generations who need to grow into their careers. 

Moreover, organisations need to be prepared to counter the rigidity of having an older generation calling the reins when they are less likely to live through the consequences of their decisions. How do we make sure that workers beyond a certain age transition to roles where they dispense knowledge and experience, rather than those where they hamper innovation. The Jack Dorseys and Mark Zuckerbergs of our times will eventually grow old as well. Have their organisations prepared to transition to a new leadership when even these millennials become too old for this world? 

Let us know if your workplace is facing a generational conflict. What do you think is the best way to deal with this transition?

Until next week, happy reading and stay safe.

Hira - Editor - The Global Tiller

If you’d like to read our previous issues, you can access our archives here.

If you’d like to know more about managing generational conflicts in the workplace, here is a handy guide prepared by the Society for Human Rights Management Foundation:

Our new episode of the Pacific Toks is out! Listen to our conversation with Keoni Lee, CEO of Hawaii Investment Ready, on entrepreneurship in the Pacific Islands and post-pandemic economic reconstruction. If you’re looking for ideas on how to orient our economies after this global crisis, listen to Keoni’s vision shared in this episode!

Listen to the Pacific Toks

…and now what?

Yesterday, the government of China announced that they were allowing families to have up to three children. This comes as a huge revolution in the modern Chinese society in which at least two generations of people have lived under the strict one-child policy that put second-borns into illegal lives and single children becoming child kings along the years.

This announcement marks a desperate attempt by the Chinese government to limit economic slow-down as its society gets old. With more old people, China will eventually have a smaller workforce to sustain growth and consumption, hence, limiting the economy’s ability to grow.

By far, China is not the only country in this situation. Japan is a stark example of an ageing population. Europe is becoming a community of retirees, a kind of colder Florida, if I may say.

Reading the news, you read about this phenomenon a lot. For the first time in the world’s history, our planet will have more people over 65+ than under 15. Humanity is ageing. And we are on the brink of a lesser-known problem: soon a large number of the population will pass away. Once the biggest generation in a long time, the baby boomers will soon leave the stage in big numbers. For Xers, millennials and Gen Z, this will be a unique experience as well: they will have to cope with death on a daily basis. 

Could this explain why the baby boomers are trying to stay active? Are they trying to prepare the younger generations for their departure? Are they trying to find solutions to compensate for the losses they will create? Or maybe they’re just trying to make up for the damages done in the past? 

There is no black and white solution to this predicament but, for sure, we are living through a unique situation in which a generation has been longer at work than any other and, for a lot of them, don’t seem to be willing to go. Or, let me put it differently: they’re not willing to let go of the leadership.

I don’t support the idea that boomers should be completely removed from the workforce to allow the younger generations to deal with whatever is happening right now. The boomers have a lot to share still, but they may be better suited to do it from the sidelines: as advisors, experts, teachers. And not while clinging on to senior leadership positions. Because while they hold on to leadership roles, they make decisions based on their understanding of the world, and that world was built in a very different period.

Canadian economist John Kenneth Galbraith used to say: “All of the great leaders have had one characteristic in common: it was the willingness to confront unequivocally the major anxiety of their people in their time. This, and not much else, is the essence of leadership”. 

In the recent Martin Scorcese documentary, 'Pretend it’s a city', Fran Lebowitz puts it in a different way She admits that the only people she truly understands is the people of her generation. She may get some parts of the other generations but she cannot pretend she understands them completely. 

Why? Because we live in a world that is very different now than it was 30, 40 years ago. Identities are seen differently by the millennials and GenZ; technology is now on the side of nature for them more than on the side of nurture as it was for GenX and Boomers. Millennials and GenZ have been defined by the great economic collapse of 2008, the pandemic and their future will be shaped by climate change. They hold less wealth than the previous generations. There’s no point in combing through the generational theory to realise that the major anxieties of the generation who are the most represented among the workforce now are very different from those of the boomers.

What we need to think about is how we will organise this transfer of leadership? How do we make sure we give control to the younger generations efficiently without having to go through a brutal transfer of power as it happened in the 60’s when the boomers took over the silent generation. Is that what is expected of us? If so why? Why can’t it be done with more cooperation and more trust?

Because, as the world is slowly walking towards the great demographic shamble, it may be better to not add chaos to the existing difficulties. We need to pass the torch, and not burn the system down. And we need to let those who come decide the world they want to live in. Because, as for everything we do in life, we create for the future in the hope that others will do even better.

Philippe - Founder - Pacific Ventury

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