Monday, October 26, 2009

The Gray Ceiling

Isn’t great that at least once a month someone comes up with a new baby boomer phenomenon with a clever name?

Now it appears that because boomers won’t get out of the workplace fast enough, they are forcing Gen Xers to hit their heads on the Gray Ceiling.

By the year 2016, one quarter of all U.S. workers will be age 55 or over. Are we working longer because we want to? Maybe a small percentage find their work that rewarding, but I would guess many would be happy to blow off work today if they felt monetarily secure enough to retire.

A Pew Research Center report indicates that 63 percent of workers age 50 to 61 will stay on the job past their planned retirement age because of the current state of the economy. Given that we are looking at a long slow recovery, the joke that we are going to die at our desks does not seem far from the truth.

For employers, the gray ceiling means they have to get their boomer employees to share some of the knowledge they currently use as leverage to stay on the job, without giving the sense they are going to be pushed out to make room for the Xers.

It doesn’t help that boomers are comfortable with a seniority system while Generation X is more inclined to want to be rewarded for their contributions rather than time served.

Companies that want to negotiate this intergenerational gray balding mandivide are replacing the career ladder with a career lattice. Generation X is moving laterally in the organization rather than always assuming they need to move up. Boomers can be mentors in this process as they also learn to play a different role than in the past. Another way to make room for the next generation is to move to part-time or consultant roles where boomers can still share their knowledge and experience while the Xer learns to take the reins.

I’ve always felt that “gray matter” can be useful to any organization. There is a lot to be said for knowing where the bodies are buried, what’s been tried before, and just as importantly, what might be worth trying again. If Xers and boomers can powershare effectively, not only do the generations win, so does the organization.

Viva la eminence gris!

Jay Harrison is a graphic designer and writer whose work can be seen at DesignConcept and at BoomSpeak. He's written a mystery novel, which therefore makes him a pre-published author.

House Shrinks

A number of recent articles have focused on baby boomers who are shrinking the nest as a prelude to emptying it out all together. Harvey Araton recently described such families in a New York Times piece called When Home Shrinks.

What surprised me was how whiny some of the children were about losing their palaces. They had a pool, hot tub, trampoline, swing set, basketball court and each had a room to themselves.

I don’t want to do the “had to walk five miles to school” routine here, but an inflatable wading pool and a rickety badminton net on an uneven yard hardly adds up to what these kids have.

So Mom and Dad decide that with this uncertain economy and the need to put the three kids through college, this was the time to downsize and move to a more affordable energy saving home. Do the kids appreciate this sacrifice? Do they realize that the parents who have fed, clothed and nurtured them for their entire lives are looking out for their best interest?

Hell, no. They’re whiny. The oldest kid who’s leaving for college mind you, says, “We always believed that was going to be the place we would come back to with our own kids for Christmas and Thanksgiving…We kind of felt lied to.”

Reading this, you just want to reach out and put your hands around his neck while you tell him, “Listen, you little brat, nothing in this world is forever and you’re damn lucky your parents are being frugal enough to pay for your education. So sit down and shut up.”

Maybe it’s going to turn out that the small houseworst legacy of baby boomers is the sense of entitlement that they have instilled in their offspring.

When I left for college, I returned on Thanksgiving to find that my former bedroom that I shared with an older brother had been turned into some kind of Barcalounger den of iniquity with a color TV in the corner. They were just waiting for me to scram. Was I mad? A little put out that the deed was done the moment the door hit my ass on the way out, but they earned it.

And I did walk a mile and a half to school. In the snow. When it was bitter cold. But not barefoot.

Jay Harrison is a graphic designer and writer whose work can be seen at DesignConcept and at BoomSpeak. He's written a mystery novel, which therefore makes him a pre-published author.

Can We Meet Big Bird?

Bert and Ernie. Wow. You know you’ve arrived when PBS decides to do a 20 part series on baby boomers. Called “Life (Part 2),” the series will take an in-depth look at baby boomers as we make our transition from Act I to Act II.

Okay, some of us maybe are skipping Act II and going straight to Act III (the one where you die) but let’s not get morbid about this thing.

According to executive producer Naomi S. Boak, “This show is designed to inspire boomers’ own self exploration of how they can make a fresh start at any age… of how they can live 20 or 30 more years of vigor, engagement and impact, defying ageist stereotypes while still having a clear-eyed view of the challenges that come with this new territory.”

That sounds an awful lot like the slogan on our masthead above, only we managed to say it with 7 words: Your whole life’s in front of you.

The host for the series will be New York Times journalist Robert Lipsyte and he will do roundtable discussions with various guests. Now that I have you on the edge of your seat, get a load of the guest list. We’ve got Martha Stewart, because she is so relevant to baby boomers (or at least those of us who have done time for securities fraud). Former Governor Mike Huckabee….will he sing or just talk? David Hyde Pierce and Joy Behar? You’re losing me fast. You say Phil Donahue will also be a guest? Now you’ve really peaked my interest. Seriously, is this the best and brightest of potential baby boomer commentators to be found out there?

Since I am a stereotypical self-centered boomer, I guessElmo I will have no choice but to perch on my sofa each week as the series explores such topics as:

* How to overcome ageism and experience a financially secure second act;
* How to balance financial needs with those of their grown children and aging parents?
* What are the secrets to relationships that last through the decades and what are the challenges facing newly single baby boomers when they start to date again?
* Can plastic surgery and eliminating the “boomer belly” renew their feelings of confidence and sexuality?
* How can boomers, who pride themselves on their youthfulness, cope with their body changes and the aches and pains of aging?
* How can they keep their brains in peak condition and distinguish between forgetfulness and early Alzheimer’s?

Somehow, I’m not feeling so uplifted by the potential of these topics. Maybe Martha could get us backstage to meet Elmo and Big Bird? Maybe Bert and Ernie could be the hosts of the show…that I would watch every week.

Jay Harrison is a graphic designer and writer whose work can be seen at DesignConcept and at BoomSpeak. He's written a mystery novel, which therefore makes him a pre-published author.