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Friday Food for Thought: The Silver Tsunami

Posted on November 7, 2014 | 2 Comments

by Linda Herman, LMHC

  

 Camping at the southernmost tip of the peninsula that is Ocean Shores, WA, this weekend, I commented to my husband that I was glad there was no tsunami. But when we picked up The News Tribune at breakfast, I learned that I am part of a tsunami, the Silver Tsunami.

 

Not new, but new to me is this term “Silver Tsunami.” It refers to the aging workforce in the US. Not since the enactment of the Social Security Act in 1935, have so many older workers (age 55 +) been in the workplace.  But as Bill Virgin, (editor and publisher of Washington Manufacturing Alert and Pacific Northwest Rail News) notes in his Tribune piece, baby boomers are an aging group that will be vacating a huge number of positions in the next few years.  This means more job openings and more Millennials (born between 1981 and 1996) in those jobs. In fact, he says, one estimate has Millennials occupying 50% of available jobs by 2020.

Are we ready to move over and let the younger generations take their (our) rightful places in the job market?

I researched characteristics of both Gen X and the Millennials (Gen Y) for prior blogs. Here are a few traits I’ve previously discussed:

 

  • Millennials have their own work ethic, distinct from both ours and the Generation X-ers. Bruce Mayhew of Bruce Mayhew consulting has described Gen X-ers(born between 1965 and 1980) as ambitious, hardworking and valuing a work/play balance.  He has said they thrive on challenges, responsibility and diversity. Gen X-ers grew up with busy baby boomer parents, spent more time alone and with siblings, and became independent and self-reliant. They like to be coached, not lectured and work well on their own.

 

  • Mayhew distinguishes the  Gen X-ers from Gen Y (the Millennials). The Millennials grew up with more hands-on parents (i.e. the “helicopter parents”) who hovered over their fully loaded schedule of activities. They are used to variety, challenge and having their views heard. They were more likely to be raised to feel special and want an “open door” policy at work, where they can give and receive feedback. They love the constantly changing technology and are on the lookout for more efficient ways of getting jobs done. Having been used to getting much reinforcement growing up, they expect that on the job as well.

 

  • Millennials, like Gen X, expect a work/life balance better than what their parents had. Their concept of time, loyalty and success is different, according to Cam Marston of Generational Insights. Having witnessed the Great Recession, they don’t expect longevity at a job. They’ve also seen more instability at home in terms of family (e.g. multiple marriages), which likely impacts their world view.   They may not be as self-directed as Gen X-ers or we boomers; hence they may not look for what needs to be done next.

 

While I have seen baby boomers bemoan the way Millennials work, I have also seen these same boomers burn out from lack of good boundaries in their work/home lives. Maybe the younger generation has a thing or two to teach us!

We boomers may be part of the Silver Tsunami.  But another tsunami, this one composed of Millennials, is headed our way.  Let’s be ready to step aside, and even, perhaps, embrace it.

 

2 responses to “Friday Food for Thought: The Silver Tsunami”

  1. angi says:

    Thank you for your healthy and balanced insight on the differences of each generation. We have a lot we could learn from each other. My parents are Boomers and my young adult children are Millenials. It’s a complex position indeed.

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