Changing perceptions: millennials and the retirement brain drain

Carolyn’s most recent blog got me thinking; boomers are trying to discover a definition of life after work that encompasses financial freedom, good health and multiple outlets for years of accumulated knowledge and experience. At the other end of the spectrum, the millennial generation, those (unscientifically) classified as being born between 1982 and 2000, are trying to mark out a life in work that is flexible enough to meet many of the same objectives; compelling careers that are energizing, engaging, well compensated and accommodating of a broad range of outside interests and pursuits. Although the two groups are often portrayed in management texts and the popular media as being at very separate ends of a very broad spectrum, I can’t help but see deep parallels in preferences between the two groups.

In their 2000 book, ‘Millennials Rising: The Next Great Generation’, William Strauss and Neil Howe credit a group of almost twenty-something’s with coming up with the term ‘Millenials’ as a way to differentiate themselves from Gen X. This commitment to carving a new path and creating a new definition of work life balance is seen as definitive of this multi connected, socially complex group. With networks extending far beyond traditional spheres thanks to cross-border platforms like facebook, LinkedIn, twitter and the blogosphere, millennials are the group expecting a customized experience. Nick Hilton, tech Blogger for the New York Times and author of the book: ‘I live in the Future and this is how it works’ defines them as the “me, now” generation and points out that millennials can’t be blamed for having what many boomers would find to be an unfathomable approach to work and life. As he points out, this is the generation that will tap into their Smartphone’s mapping feature to find they are a GPS’ed dot at the center of their own customizable worldview.

It’s an approach that most employers (in addition to boomers) are struggling to adapt to as they try to align the structures laid down by boomers with the preferences of Gen Xers and the expectations of the ‘me, now’ millennials. One firm attempting to respond to this challenge is the consulting firm Deloitte, who’ve created a lattice model for career development- a model that promotes up, down and side to side moves with the aim of fostering a collaborative approach to career customization by employer and employee. AMEX, the multi-national, multi-service firm is renowned for a model of career development that will take their high potential talent across the firm to stretch projects nationally and internationally regardless of previous assignment.

By creating tailored responses to the preferences of their newest generation of recruit, Millenials, employers are also laying the foundations to meet some of the objectives of their most recent “de-cruits” (viz. boomers). As we know, boomers want to share their hard earned professional and personal life experience. A matrixed approach to the training and development of high potentials creates a structure that could greatly benefit from engaging boomers on informal advisory boards or ‘Executive in Residence’ style mentoring programs. Utilizing the ubiquitous and inexpensive technological platforms that millennials are so comfortable with like Skype and IM would support the creation of such initiatives without the geographic or time constrained parameters that most boomers are looking to step outside of.

In return, millenials are on hand to reverse mentor boomers in the use and application of technological interventions that can make their lives easier and cheaper (Skype, anyone?). This potential is noted by Sylvia Ann Hewlett, Ph.D, Founder and Chairperson of the Center for Work-Life Policy who has extensively researched workplace diversity and written a number of publications on the subject. In a blog she co-authored for HBR in 2009 Hewlett highlights the example of Time Warner which matched college age students with senior execs to help them increase their TQ.

Innovative interventions like these address some of the concerns that thought leaders, employers, governments and boomers themselves have around stemming the retiree brain drain. In addition to aiding competitive advantage, they can create inspirational focus for new recruits and help define the concept of ‘sustainable legacy’ proposed by Carolyn in her blog on the subject.