Home Management Matters Think Gen-Y is the problem? Think again. Baby Boomers are the “real...

Think Gen-Y is the problem? Think again. Baby Boomers are the “real threat to workplace stability”


The stereotype of a Gen Y employee is usually that of someone difficult to deal with, overly-demanding and the bane of a manager’s life.

Yet, according to new research by Leadership Management Australasia (LMA), Gen-Y is looked upon favourably by most workplace leaders and employees across generations.

And who is the real threat to workplace stability? Baby Boomers.

According to LMA’s Generations L.E.A.D. (Leadership, Employment and Direction) Survey, Gen-Y is building a reputation among Australian employers as an emerging driver of cross-generational harmony.  Gen-Y calls for more formal structures to connect different generations in the workplace.

“If you believe that Generation Y is the unsolvable challenge when it comes to managing a workforce, think again,” said LMA’s Executive Chairman, Grant Sexton.

“Baby Boomers are now the challenge… Baby Boomers are not in favour.”

LMA concludes that large numbers in all generations don’t want to work with or report to Baby Boomers in the future.  The survey also found that many Baby Boomers themselves agree.

“These findings cast a shadow over the relationship Baby Boomers have with other generations,” he said. “The Baby Boomer issue is a sleeper – an emerging and ongoing challenge for HR departments. It threatens to undermine stability of the workforce into the future because Baby Boomers will continue to occupy most leadership and senior management positions in this decade.”

Sexton will present the research at the annual conference of the Australian Human Resources Institute in Sydney on June 7-8.

L.E.A.D. Survey Results

Among 14 L.E.A.D. Survey questions, participants were asked which generation they would prefer to work with and which generation they would prefer to report to in the future.

When asked who they would like to work with:

  • ONLY 17% of Baby Boomers prefer their own generation, 40% prefer Gen-X, 27% Gen-Y
  • 57% of Gen-X prefer their own generation, 32% Gen-Y, 4% Baby Boomers
  • 53% of Gen-Y prefer their own generation,  29% Gen-X, 4% Baby Boomers

When asked who the would like to report to:

  • 41% of Baby Boomers prefer their own generation, 33% Gen-X, 5% Gen-Y
  • 71% of Gen-X prefer their own generation, 14% Baby Boomers, 6% Gen-Y
  • 50% of Gen-Y prefer Gen-X, 24% their own generation, 8% to Baby Boomers

Remaining percentages in all categories covered Gen-Z and declarations “not to work with or report to anyone else”. The results are weighted to reflect the latest Australian Bureau of Statistics Labour Force data (2011): Pre-boomers (born before 1945) – 2%; Baby-boomers (born 1945-1962) – 26%; Generation X (born 1963-1980) – 39%; Generation Y (born 1981-1995) – 32%; Generation Z (born 1996 or later) – less than 1%.

How can Baby Boomers bounce back?  Better communication.

The pressure is on for Baby Boomers to invent or reinvent themselves, says Sexton.

He noted that while the consequences of a workforce unwilling and uninterested in working with Baby Boomers were great, a major change by Baby Boomers may allow others to feel comfortable working with and/or reporting to them in the future.

Better cross-generational communication is the key. LMA claims this means openness and sharing for Baby Boomers.  For Gen-X and Gen-Y in particular, this means planning and direction.

Organisations and HR departments must identify and explore what drives effective relationships with every generation in their workplace as well as look for ways to harmonise them.  This can deliver highly effective and productive relationships, says LMA in its Generations report.

“The way is open for a new way of thinking for those leaders and managers currently struggling with cross-generational dysfunction and generational diversity,” says Sexton.

In the long run, he notes that understanding the motivations of a given generation could be the difference between an organisation keeping and losing some of their best employees.