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Don’t put Baby (Boomers) in the corner: realising the potential of the over 50s at work



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Don’t put
Baby (Boomers)
in the corner:
Realising the
potential of the
over 50s at work
Dr. Carina Paine Schofield
& Sue Honoré
November 2015
Retire at 65?
I couldn’t think of
anything worse
The authors would like to thank all those individuals who participated in this research. We would also like to
thank all the other people who helped make this research a reality. We would particularly like to acknowledge our
colleague Helen Lockett, for her help setting up and managing the survey.
© Ashridge Business School 2015
All rights reserved. Except for the quotation of short passages for the purpose of criticism or review, no part of
this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrievable system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means,
electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise, without the prior permission of Ashridge.
For more information please contact
Hult International Business School
Ashridge House, Berkhamsted
Hertfordshire, HP4 1NS, UK
ISBN: 978-1-910025-14-7
Get Involved
What is important to you in your working life? What is important to your organisation, your colleagues? Tell us!
This research project is divided into two phases. Phase 1, documented in this report, provides quantitative data via an
online survey. Phase 2 will provide supplementary qualitative data with an emphasis on in-depth interviews and focus
groups of the over 50s at work, and HR sta working in an organisation that employs over 50 year olds.
Individuals and organisations that would like to participate in Phase 2 are encouraged to contact: and/or
1. Introduction 1
1.1 Context and Background 2
1.2 Research Aims 4
2. Method 6
3. Key Findings 9
4. Findings Section 1: The Value of Work 12
4.1 What do Baby Boomers get from Work? 13
5. Findings Section 2: The Problem – HR (The Organisation) Versus Baby Boomers
(The Individual) 15
5.1 Training and Development Needs 16
5.2 Challenges in Retaining Baby Boomers 19
5.3 What Works? Examples of Experience Sharing 21
6. Findings Section 3: The Solution – Using Key Skills and Motivating Baby Boomers 24
6.1 Unused Skills 25
6.2 What More Could Baby Boomers Give Back? 28
7. Modelling Baby Boomer Needs 32
7.1 Changing Direction and Ambitions 33
7.2 The Ashridge-Hult Model: Generational Motivations 34
8. Conclusions and Recommendations 35
8.1 Summary 36
8.2 Next Steps and Get Involved 36
9. References 37
10. Appendices 39
Table of Contents
Get Involved
About this Research
1 Introduction
What the papers say…
1.1 Context
and Background
Dierent Generations at Work
Three generations make up the majority of today’s
workforce, from Generation Y (Gen Y), through
Generation X (Gen X), to Baby Boomers (BBs). There are
many variations on the definitions of each generation
and on the exact start and end dates of classification.
The definitions of the relevant generations as classified
in our research are shown in Figure 1 along with the
approximate percentage of each generation in the UK
workforce6. Broadly speaking, a generation is a group of
people born every 20 years, and in the present research
we use the more general definitions of Baby Boomers
as over 50 year olds, and Gen Y as aged 30 years and
under. In addition, in this report the terms ‘Baby Boomers’,
‘older workers’7 and ‘over 50s’ are used interchangeably.
(52-69 years)
(33-52 years)
(13-33 years)
Figure 1: Generational definitions.
1 Introduction
Year of birth
Each generation comes to the workplace with a dierent
background and dierent skills, and each has dierent
expectations and needs. There are some common
themes that can be drawn from the wealth of literature
regarding the generation’s formative years, attitudes
to work and relationships with others. For example,
Baby Boomers may feel a greater sense of loyalty and
dedication to their current employer compared to Gen
Y employees, who have been brought up in a more
‘me-focused’ world, with less paternalistic employers.
These generational dierences can aect many aspects
of work – recruitment, retention, engagement, motivation,
productivity and innovation. However, not all Baby
Boomers, nor all Gen Y-ers, behave the same way. It is
important to be aware of both generational and individual
dierences, in order to keep organisations productive
and employees motivated.
Intergenerational Research at Ashridge
At Ashridge we have been conducting research into the
global intergenerational workforce since 2008. In that
time we have gathered over 8000 survey responses and
also conducted interviews and focus groups with around
350 people across all workplace generations.
The research investigates:
Is each generation actually dierent from others?
What has made each generation the way it is?
What does each generation want from work? What
motivates people to succeed at dierent times in
their work lives?
Where are the conflicts and issues between
What are the global cultural dierences?
What are the appropriate ways of working with and
developing each generation?
Ashridge has published five reports on this subject.
They can be accessed at:
GenYResearch. These reports include:
1. Generation Y: Inside Out (2009) – this report sets
the scene by investigating the myths and realities
of perception of Gen Y and their managers. It
challenges the popular press and requires people
to reflect on their own prejudices and perceptions of
others. It also documents key areas for development
in terms of Gen Y at work.
2. Generation Y: Great Expectations (2011) – this report
contains research conducted jointly with the Institute
of Leadership and Management (ILM). The findings
focus on recruitment and the first five years at work.
The report highlights the realities of the modern
workforce and how organisations need to look to
change. It allows those from education, HR and line
management to understand how to motivate and
encourage young people at work.
3. Culture Shock: Generation Y around the World (2012)
– this report builds on the ILM research conducted in
2011 by extending the research beyond the Western
world. It looks at cultural dierences and similarities
across the globe.
4. The Millennial Compass: Truths about the 30-and-
under Generation in the Workplace (2014) – this
report contains global research conducted for
the MSL Group into Millennials’ attitudes and
expectations in the workplace. It reveals workplace
dynamics that employers must be aware of as they
build their teams, especially across international
5. A New Generation: the Success of Generation
Y in GCC Countries (2015) – this research project
examines the similarities and dierences of Gen Y
employees across the six Gulf Cooperation Council
(GCC) countries in the Middle East, and compares this
population to Gen Y in other parts of the world. It also
looks at the relationships between GCC local Gen Y
employees and their local and expatriate managers.
Extending the Ashridge Research:
The Importance of the Over 50s
As people are living longer, and living healthier, the
mean age of the population has risen along with the
percentage of the total population occupied by older age
groups. In 2011 the UK government abolished the Default
Retirement Age (DRA) of 65 years, and continues to raise
the age of eligibility for the State Old Age Pension.
Each generation can be defined by
dierent beliefs, circumstances, value
systems and life events. Generational
theory can be described as a ‘convenient
shorthand’, particularly for analysis. It is
important to remember that a generation
is made up of individuals who need to be
treated as such.
Taken together, it is known that today’s employees will
work well past the previous conventional retirement age
and so “older people in work are on the rise”.8 This has
led to an ageing of the workforce9. Older workers both
need to work (to support living longer) and also want to
work, for a variety of reasons (even if they do not have
to). Currently the 50 plus age group accounts for around
30% of the total employment in the UK10 and by 2020
the over 50s will comprise around one third (33%) of the
working age population11.
It is clear that the skills and contributions of older
workers will play an important part in the country’s future
economic success. It is therefore more important than
ever to understand how generations work alongside
each other. As people live and work longer, a four-
generation (or 4G) workforce, where sta in their 70s
and 80s will be working alongside those in their 20s,
is becoming a reality12, which creates a challenge for
organisations and HR, as well as individuals.
It is beginning to become recognised widely, and
addressed by some, that there needs to be a focus on
the over 50s – how to keep older workers engaged;
how to help them remain or return to fulfilling and
sustainable employment; and how to utilise their skills
and experience for the benefit of the economy13. Just
a couple of examples of organisations and people
engaged in this area include:
A crowd-funded national debate and exhibition
The Age of No Retirement14 – took place at the
end of 2014 to discover the value of older people
to a society where people are living and working
longer. This event was attended by leaders from
all sectors, for a series of live streamed debates on
a wide range of topics. Following this event, over
8000 individuals and almost 300 organisations from
across the UK are collaborating on themes in
this area.
The Missing Millions reports, led by Business in
the Community (BITC)15 and research partner the
International Longevity Centre – UK (ILC-UK) aims
to raise awareness of the challenges facing older
people in the workplace and explore solutions that
address these barriers. In addition, BITC have a
campaign, led by business via an advisory board, to
achieve change through working with employers on
a membership model.
The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP)
published a report in 2014 called Fuller Working
Lives – A Framework for Action16. This document
outlines the business case for fuller working lives
beyond the age of 50. DWP also published an
overview of the evidence base that informed the
development of the Framework for Action17.
The focus of the HR sector, and often of managers
themselves, is on the younger generations – educating
and developing them to reach their full potential. Yet,
members of Gen Y claim they are ignored by their older
colleagues and their voices are not heard. But what of
Baby Boomers – those at the other end of the working
age spectrum? Are organisations considering them
productive and therefore to be left alone? Are older
workers being allowed, or even driving themselves, to
reach their full potential? There appears to be a need to
help an equally lost generation to make the most of their
abilities and to increase their motivation at work.
In this report, new research into the real wants and
needs of Baby Boomers, is combined with findings from
eight years of previous Ashridge research, to cover the
complete continuum of perspectives on generations in
the workforce.
This research should be of interest to many groups, to
provide a basis for discussion and change into managing
Baby Boomers at work.
1.2 Research Aims
The purpose of this research was to build upon our
previous research into Gen Y18;19;20;21;22;23, and extend
the research to cover the over 50s in the workplace, in
order to ensure in-depth analysis of wants and needs
of all generations at work. This research examines
specifically what the older generation ‘gets’ from working
longer (their personal wants and needs) and what they
‘give’ back – their contribution of wisdom, knowledge,
experience and insight to younger colleagues.
Example quotes from over 50s and HR participants
It would be good to see a shift in
perceptions so that employers
don’t write people o as soon as
they hit that magic 50 number.
50 nowadays is not ‘old’ in the
way it used to be.
The organisation has no interest in retaining
people after 50. Prejudice prevails, although
unconscious, and is part of the cultural
fabric of the company.
They just want to continue
treading water until retirement.
In a world of scarce skills, ignoring
the over 50s is futile.
The company thinks over 50s
are valueless. They think they are
a burden.
The knowledge just walks out of the door.
The biggest challenge is the internal
perceptions of older workers.
People in their 50s are a key talent
pool. Often the issue is with the HR
functions and their perception of
High Potentials.
What is the dierence between older
employees and anyone younger?
2 Method
2.1 Research Methodology
This was a UK-focused descriptive research project
which took place between July 2014 and July 2015.
Quantitative data were collected through an online
survey. Two groups of participants were invited to take
part in the survey:
1) Those aged 50 years and over, working
or recently retired
2) HR sta, of any age, working in an organisation that
employs over 50 year olds.
An email invitation with a link to an anonymous
questionnaire was sent to the Ashridge business network
of contacts. The survey link was also placed on the
Ashridge website, on relevant social networking sites
and was sent out to personal contacts.
2.2 Survey Design
The survey topics were based on the relevant existing
literature and our previous research findings. Using a
variety of question formats, the survey explored:
What the over 50s get from work
What the over 50s can give back to work
Training and Development for the over 50s
Examples of successful activities to share
knowledge/experience in organisations between
Challenges faced by organisations in attracting/
retaining/motivating the over 50s
The role of over 50s in an organisation
Personal wants/needs and how they fit into work
Some closed questions (mainly ranking scale questions)
were used, and for these questions the response
options were based on relevant existing literature and
our previous research findings. However, the majority
of questions were open ended questions in order to
gain a deeper insight into participants’ opinions, beliefs
and observations than could be gathered via closed
questions. Through these questions the survey also
sought to obtain stories and anecdotes.
Two versions of the survey, for the over 50s and for HR,
were created with a number of key questions remaining
the same across both versions to enable comparisons
between the groups.
2.3 Respondents
A total of 2045 people responded to the survey.
After data cleaning the final set of data used for
further analysis was 1834. This total comprised 1426
respondents aged 50 years and over and 408 HR sta.
The majority of respondents currently work in the UK
(93% for both groups).
Over 50s
This group consisted of predominately 50-60 year olds
(86%). It was made up of more females (58%) than males
(42%). The majority of these respondents were typically
working full time (80%) and worked in large (49%) or
medium (39%) sized organisations.
HR Sta
Half of the HR sta group was made up from 31-49 year
olds (50%) and 41% were aged 50-60 years. Compared
to the over 50s respondents, the percentage of
females was much higher (77%). The majority of these
respondents were working full time (89%) in medium
(49%) or large (47%) sized organisations. Just under
half (45%) of respondents reported that between 26-
50% of their employees are aged over 50 years in their
organisation, and just over one third (34%) reported a
population of between 10-25% of over 50 year olds.
A fuller profile of the respondents is provided in Appendix I.
2.5 Next Steps in Data
Collection (Get Involved)
This report presents the first part of a two part project.
The data presented here focuses on the quantitative
data collected through the use of an anonymous online
survey. The second part of the project involves collecting
qualitative data through face-to-face interviews and focus
groups of the over 50s at work, and HR sta working in
an organisation that employs over 50 year olds.
Individuals and organisations that would like to
participate in Phase 2 are encouraged to
2.4 Notes on Interpreting
the Data
When interpreting the findings, it is important to
remember that not all workers aged over 50 years or all
HR sta were invited to complete the survey, and that all
results describe individuals’ attitudes and perceptions.
Therefore, the results are based on the opinions of
those who took part in the survey and not on the entire
population of Baby Boomers or HR professionals.
Although data was not collected regarding respondents’
specific roles, the questionnaire was sent to the Ashridge
business network of contacts of senior and middle
managers and leaders.
Where percentages do not add up to 100% in this report,
it is caused by multiple answers, computer rounding and/
or the exclusion of neutral, ‘don’t know’ or ‘not stated’
answers. Where the total number of responses provided
is greater than the number of respondents to a particular
question, this is caused by multiple answers.
3 Key Findings
Figure 2: Key findings.
Baby Boomers not being used to
their full potential
Baby Boomers are driven
by intrinsic needs
Baby Boomers want
something dierent
Staying ‘as is’ may be bad for
individual and organisation
HR is o target
Still very ambitious
Breadth of skills not used
Feel restricted in operational roles
Viewed as ‘old’ when may work
for 20 more years
Some Baby Boomers feel a
reluctance to change: ‘my job is fine’
Lack of thought about knowledge
sharing before retirement
HR focuses on retirement planning
Baby Boomers just want great jobs
and continued growth
Making career discussions formal
makes Baby Boomers feel they
will be ‘put in a corner’
Want to step aside or have new
Coach/mentor others
Guru/advisor/honest counsel
Non-exec director/board
Overseas/new products & services
Relationship building
Interest/challenge and enjoyment
Want to leave a legacy
Want to be fulfilled
4 Findings Section 1:
The Value of Work
Findings Section 2: The Problem
Describes the problems of dierences between an HR, or organisational, approach
versus a Baby Boomer, or individual, approach.
Findings Section 3: The Solution
Moves on from the problems to describe solutions and actions; how to use Baby Boomers’
key skills and how best to motivate Baby Boomers.
Findings Section 1: The Value of Work
Explores the value of work, and describes what Baby Boomers gain from working.
The research ndings are divided into three main
sections. At the end of each section of ndings there
is a Summary and Implications discussion.
4 Findings Section 1:
The Value of Work
As Figure 3 shows, Baby Boomers supplied a range of
responses, indicating that they are driven by a variety
of motivation types – from intrinsic, to extrinsic, to social
and altruistic. However, it was very clear that for the
majority of Baby Boomer respondents being at work
meets intrinsic needs i.e. working for work’s own sake
and finding meaning and interest in work, rather than to
obtain material (extrinsic) rewards or obtain an external
goal (such as status, a high salary, material possessions,
and prestige).
The top four factors rated as ‘very important’ by Baby
Boomers in their working lives all fell into the intrinsic
category. ‘Mental stimulation’ (being challenged), was
rated as very important by 63% of them and almost all
respondents (95%) rated it as important. This was closely
followed by 59% of Baby Boomers rating ‘fulfilment’
(getting things done; a sense of achievement) as very
important, and again almost all respondents (93%) rated
it as important. These factors were followed by valuing
a ‘sense of purpose’ (a reason to get up in the morning
or be busy) and ‘pride’ (doing something valuable for the
future), with 49% and 46% rating them as very important
respectively. Many Baby Boomers specifically added
comments to describe how they work “to leave a legacy”.
[I work]…“to leave a legacy”…
“be a role model to my children”
“to contribute to society
Sense of
Financial reward
Social relationships
Working relationships
Development of others
Greater enjoyment of
non-work activities
because less time for them
Physical health/Exercise
Figure 3. What do Baby Boomers ‘get’ from work?
4.1 What do Baby Boomers get from Work?
Baby Boomers were asked what being in work gives them, that they would miss if they were not working.
The response options provided were based on the wealth of literature around motivators at work in general (adapted
from Self Determination Theory, e.g.24) and also generational dierences in work attitudes (e.g.25; 26) and the motivation
for older workers to work (e.g.27). Baby Boomer respondents had to indicate how important, or unimportant, each
factor was. Figure 3 shows the percentage of respondents rating each factor as ‘very important’.
63% of Baby Boomers say ‘mental
stimulation/being challenged’ is very
important to them at work.
However, money also featured in the top five factors.
The extrinsic factor ‘financial reward’ was rated by
45% of Baby Boomers as very important, and by 90%
as important.
The social aspect of ‘working relationships’ (interaction
with others and belonging to a team) as well as the
altruistic aspect of ‘developing others’ (coaching
colleagues and so on) were also significant, with a
sizeable 44% and 40%, respectively, rating them as very
important. Some workers are motivated by the social
and aliative aspects of work, such as making friends
and having pleasant interactions with others, and this
need to belong or to be connected is also a component
of intrinsic motivation28. Related to the importance of
altruistic values, coaching and mentoring are very clearly
on the agenda of desired Baby Boomer activities (see
Findings Section 3) and 82% of the respondents claimed
‘developing others’ was important or very important to
them. However, leisure factors (greater enjoyment of
non-work activities) and ‘physical health and exercise’
were rated much lower. Only 18% selected leisure and
11% health and exercise as very important.
Table 1 shows the key dierences between male and
female Baby Boomer respondents.
Very important
Male Female
38 49 Financial reward
39 48 Working relationships
(Interaction with others/belonging
to team)
16 23 Social relationships
Table 1: What do Baby Boomers get from work,
by gender (%)
In terms of gender dierences, Table 1 shows that
overall the social aspect of working appears to be more
important to females than males. ‘Working relationships’
are rated as more important to females than males
(48% females rate as very important, compared to 39%
males) as are ‘social relationships’ (23% females rate as
very important, compared to 16% males). In addition,
‘financial reward’ is also more important to females than
males (49% of females rate as very important, compared
to 38% males). Therefore, increasing the motivation of
Baby Boomers at work may need to take gender into
Summary and Implications of these
In summary, the results show that Baby Boomers are
driven by a variety of factors, but it was very clear that
for the majority of over 50s, being at work is satisfying
intrinsic needs. Although key themes can be drawn from
these findings, as described earlier, it is important to
recognise that there are of course individual dierences.
Every person ‘gets’ something slightly dierent from
work. It is therefore vital that employees are viewed
as individuals, rather than making assumptions based
purely on age, gender or role. However, as will be seen
in the following sections of this report, the existence of
individual dierences can be a problem for the more
pragmatic approach of HR in organisations.
Within the HR community there has been a strong focus
on retirement planning and managing physical and
mental limitations as people age, but Baby Boomers are
motivated at work by intrinsic factors – activities and
challenges that come from within. Often Baby Boomers
are in fairly senior roles and, whether they know it or not,
are role models for many others within an organisation.
If Baby Boomers are not stimulated and motivated at
work, this will have an eect on their individual resilience,
and the knock-on eect on the motivation level of
others could be enormous. However, if they can remain
engaged and eective and build their personal resilience
then they will have a positive impact on; boost the
wellbeing of; and build the resilience of their surrounding
workers (e.g.29).
How can a culture be developed where Baby Boomers
feel open to voice their real needs for motivation,
to describe these intrinsic factors and to change or
adapt roles to allow them to add positive value to the
organisation for years to come?
Work for the over 50s is not just about
financial reward and issues with physical
health. Baby Boomers are driven by more
complex, intrinsic factors.
Are roles shaped to meet these individual,
personal motivators and needs?
5 Findings Section 2:
The Problem
The Problem – The Organisation Versus the Individual
Figure 4: Training and development needs of the over 50s, by respondent group (HR and over 50s).
HR and Baby Boomers are not aligned in terms of training and development needs.
As today’s employees will work well past conventional
retirement age, it is even more important that they keep
their skills up to date, making them better placed, not
just to maintain their employability, but also make a
meaningful contribution to the organisations that they
work for now and in the future.
Both groups of respondents (HR and over 50s)
were asked a similar question around training and
development. HR sta were asked to list any training/
1087 instances of training and development were
listed by 641 over 50s, and 396 instances of training
and development were listed by 200 HR sta. Figure
4 illustrates the top five training and development
categories listed by each group of respondents.
As Figure 4 shows, there were many similarities
between the over 50s and their HR colleagues. The
most common training and development subject listed
by both groups was Information Technology (IT) skills.
Twenty five percent of the HR comments and 18% of the
over 50s mentioned training in ‘IT’ or ‘new technologies’.
These comments included “keeping up to date” with IT
skills and “general IT training” and also more specific
“social media training” and “digital training” and “new
technology that is appropriate to the job”.
Retirement Planning
Coaching & Mentoring
Leadership & Management
Change Management
Coaching & Mentoring
Leadership & Management
Retirement Planning
Career Development
5.1 Training and Development Needs
Of special importance is that both groups of respondents
described the need for ‘coaching’ and ‘mentoring’
training (11% of HR comments and 14% of over 50s).
In open responses, many of the over 50s described
wanting to be able to pass on their knowledge and
experience to younger/new employees in their
organisation. Both groups also specifically mentioned the
need for ‘leadership training’ or ‘management training’.
Email was introduced to us Baby Boomers
during our working lives and ongoing training is
required for those who did not have technology
early on in their careers.
I want to be considered for training. There is
an assumption that once you are over 50 it is not
required, or you no longer have the potential
as talent.
As well as similarities, there were also some interesting
dierences. Most notably HR sta focused on ‘retirement
planning’ (17% of HR responses), while the over 50s
requested training for planning for their careers as well
as for retirement (4-5% in both cases). Interestingly these
two groups seemed to be mutually exclusive! In contrast,
hardly any HR sta listed career development (1%) in their
responses. The fact that Baby Boomers showed far less
interest in ‘retirement training’ than their HR colleagues
thought they needed, is a point to note. In addition,
HR sta also listed the need for ‘change management’
training (6%) whereas respondents aged over 50 years
did not. It appears that HR and Baby Boomers see
training and development in dierent lights.
HR are interested in giving Baby Boomers
‘retirement training’; Baby Boomers want
career planning.
The comments also seemed to suggest that many of the
over 50s were more interested in a ‘sideways’ career
move (see Findings Section 3) and wanted training to
support that change. This quote from one respondent
reflects many of the comments from Baby Boomers:
“I would like training and development into how to
move from an executive to a non-executive (advisory)
role”. Many Baby Boomers described how they would
like “exposure to, and to be used for other roles within
the organisation” and provided with “preparation for
alternative work” inside their organisation. The Baby
Boomers felt they could add more value if trained in
areas where they could use their wealth of experience in
a positive way.
There is another issue raised by Baby Boomers, not
about the subject matter of training, but about its
availability at all. Many of the quotes from the over 50s
were around not wanting to be ‘ignored’ for training
simply because of their age. Several HR respondents
also described how training and development should
not be determined by age: All training oered should be
role or development related, without regard to age”, said
one HR respondent and another added: “Nothing would
apply specifically to this age group [the over 50s] that
wouldn’t apply to other age groups.
Summary and Implications of these
Baby Boomers want their development
to be visible and showcased within the
It does appear that the career development process
is geared towards those at the younger end of the
age scale. Published statistics show that only 22% of
employees in the UK aged between 50 and retirement
age have received job-related training in a period of
four weeks, as opposed to 42% aged 18-34 and 36%
aged 35-49 in the same period30. Our findings show that
some enlightened HR departments recognise that Baby
Boomers may want and need further development, and
that it should not all be concentrated on the young. There
was even an example of one organisation replacing their
development programme called “young rising stars”
with one simply called “rising stars” in order to include
everyone regardless of age. However, many Baby
Boomers do not feel their organisations support them
in gaining appropriate development. It appears that
HR and the over 50s are not exactly aligned in terms
of development. HR experts appear more comfortable
focusing on pragmatic areas such as ‘retirement planning’
and ‘financial planning’, while Baby Boomers are keen on
‘career planning’ and getting additional development to
meet their career needs.
Baby Boomers and HR both recognise the need for IT/
technology training, but it must be done in such a way so
as to not embarrass those over 50 in front of their peers,
who judge their reputation, or younger ‘digital native’
colleagues, who may not respect this lack of capability.
The implications from these findings are not that HR or
Baby Boomers are right or wrong, but more that both
groups need to look seriously at where the priorities
lie and be open to change. It is essential to view
younger and older employees not as substitutes, but as
complementary components of a team.
I would like to receive coaching in how to
pass on my skills to others.
HR may need to put more visible and tangible eort
into developing the over 50s and meeting their needs
for development to support ‘sideways’ moves. Baby
Boomers may need to recognise that retirement planning
is of value – even 20 years away from the end date and
be open to accepting ongoing development as part of
their working lives.
[Talking to HR] It can be like a stand-o
before the first person says ‘retirement’.
5.2 Challenges in Retaining Baby Boomers
HR participants were asked about the challenges they feel their organisation faces in terms of attracting/retaining/
motivating people over the age of 50 in employment. 188 people provided 282 valid responses. Figure 5 shows that
the most common response from HR (28%) was that there was no problem within their own organisation in attracting
and retaining Baby Boomers.
No problem
Motivating/challenging them
Youthful workplace/fast paced
Cultural & value changes
Physical needs
Financial needs
Work-life balance/flexible working
Recognising & sharing experience
Moving on/preparedness
5% 10% 15% 20% 25% 30%
Figure 5: Challenges in attracting, retaining and motivating Baby Boomers (HR responses, %).
Next in priority were comments about challenging and
motivating Baby Boomers (23%). The responses described
a mixture of reasons why this was a challenge: in some
cases the Baby Boomers had less interest in work because
they were “waiting to retire”; there was a whole range
of comments from one extreme, of the over 50s being
uninterested in development at all, to the other extreme
of the organisation being unable to provide the desired
development direction. In other cases, the responses
revolved around the challenge of matching the role and
skillset of individuals within the organisation.
The remaining responses were considerably less frequent,
but included the fact that the organisation’s approach was
‘youthful’ or very fast-paced and that made it dicult for
Baby Boomers (17%); that the culture of the organisation
wasn’t itself adapting to getting the best out of Baby
Boomers or Baby Boomers weren’t adapting to the
culture (11%).
Many over 50s have long service and are
set in their ways… It’s their “been there, seen
that” attitude, that needs help bringing into the
21st century.
Most HR respondents say there is no issue with attracting, retaining and motivating
Baby Boomers in their organisation.
Also scoring 11% was the real and obvious challenge that
some work is physical in nature and as people age, they
may not be able to maintain the level of fitness required.
There were limitations within the organisation – being
able to adapt to the desire for flexible/part time working
by Baby Boomers (7%); recognising the real need to get
Baby Boomers more engaged in sharing their experience
and knowledge more widely (4%) and providing more help
to enable Baby Boomers to adapt to a new way of life.
Financial constraints, either on the part of the organisation,
or the demands of the Baby Boomers, covered another
6% and the ability and drive to adapt to new technology
was 5%.
Summary and Implications of these
HR claim that either there is no issue with
motivating and retaining Baby Boomers, or
see that Baby Boomers are demotivated
and unchallenged.
The full text from the ‘it is not a problem’ responses
implies in some cases that HR departments believe that
all employees at all levels are treated the same and fairly
and therefore there is no issue. But many of the replies
did say that the organisation was often blind to the value
of more experienced employees and there was a real
bias in terms of certain people to acknowledge and
encourage Baby Boomers to give much more. The over
50s disagree with HR; they feel that motivating Baby
Boomers is a real issue in the corporate environment.
The biggest challenge is overcoming
managers’ prejudice about Baby Boomers.
A good number of the replies talked about how
HR policies, organisational spending and focus on
development by line managers, is all geared towards the
younger end of the workforce. Baby Boomers want more
development (see Findings Section 2). They need to be
given a chance to gain that development and to help
develop others.
The problem is not all in the HR world. There were plenty
of comments saying that Baby Boomers come across as
entrenched in their attitudes and unwilling to adapt which
causes conflict with their colleagues. It also produces a
perception that Baby Boomers are hanging on to their jobs
and blocking others from progressing. There is scope for
Baby Boomers to recognise this perception and ensure
it is changed.
We just ignore the fact that our organisation’s
assets are getting older and that we should use
their resource and competencies in a dierent
way to not burn them out or lose them along
the way.
Some of the older Baby Boomers have good pension
provisions and HR departments are challenged by the
fact that these people want to retire, but there is limited
formal recognition of a need and willingness for a transfer
of skills activity, so leaving a knowledge and experience
gap in the organisation. Equally, HR people see that
organisations which cannot provide flexitime or flexible
ways of working are losing valuable employees in the
older age brackets; this is a key area for HR to consider.
If these people [Baby Boomers] are in
big value creating roles, they need to keep
progressing and delivering, otherwise they
risk becoming blockers to emerging talent.
Both groups of respondents (HR and over 50s) were
asked a similar question about the successful activities
their organisation is doing specifically to share
knowledge/experience between people of dierent
generations. 1532 examples of a successful activity from
1019 over 50s, and 359 examples from 301 HR sta were
submitted. Baby Boomer respondents selected up to nine
examples; HR sta respondents selected up to seven,
although the most common response option (for both
Baby Boomers and HR) listed one example.
A surprising finding, however, was the number
of respondents (in both groups) stating that their
organisation was doing ‘nothing’ that they knew of
successfully to share knowledge and experience
between people of dierent generations. Of the total
number of people who responded to this question,
22% of over 50s and 23% of HR sta stated in terms of
successful activities in their organisation there were ‘none
that I know of’.
The majority of respondents can think
of ‘no successful activities’ that their
organisation is doing to share knowledge/
The remaining respondents to this question did select a
number of successful activities as show in Table 2.
BBs HR sta
Successful activity % rank % rank
Phased retirement 15% 1 24% 1
Networking events 14% 2 10% 4
Special projects at work 13% 3 15% 2
Job swap/shadowing 8% 8 10% 3
Table 2: Top three successful activities to share
knowledge within organisation, by respondent group
(HR and over 50s).
Table 2 shows that ‘phased retirement’ was ranked as the
number one successful activity in organisations by both
HR sta and Baby Boomers. This activity was selected
by almost one quarter of HR sta (24%). There is no one
definition of phased retirement, but it can be thought
of as “a broad variety of employment arrangements
allowing retirees to continue working reduced workloads
while gradually shifting from full-time work to full-time
retirement”31, and can be beneficial for both employees
and employers.
The other activities which were ranked in the top four
HR responses were selected by a lower percentage of
respondents: ‘special projects at work’ (15%), such as
taking on new projects or responsibilities in a dierent
area, and ‘networking events’ and ‘job swap/shadowing’
(both 10%), to share knowledge and experience.
Similarly, low percentages of Baby Boomers selected the
top three successful activities ranked in Table 2. Although
Job swap/shadowing’ appears in the top three for HR
sta, it was only ranked 8th by the over 50s (with 8% of
Baby Boomers selecting this as a successful activity).
Other successful activities that were mentioned, but with
much lower percentages included:
“board or committee membership”
“sponsored project” (for example, charity work)
“the use of a knowledge database”
“lunchtime and after work education sessions”
“reverse mentoring”
“regular contact with retirees”.
In a second question in this section, HR sta and over
50s were asked to provide an example of any role or
any company’s approach to older workers that was, from
a personal viewpoint, a real success story and to explain
why it was successful.
284 HR sta and 940 over 50s provided responses to
this open question. For both groups of respondents the
outstanding role model for success in employing the
over 50s was the retail sector. The most common retailer
mentioned by name, by both groups of respondents
was the nationwide DIY store B&Q. Other named
retail examples included: Asda; Homebase; Waitrose;
Sainsbury’s; Tesco; M&S; and IKEA.
5.3 What Works? Examples of Experience Sharing
Other named examples included: Shell; Age Positive;
Deloitte; John Lewis; Barclays; City of London; The
National Trust; GSK; Sodexo and a number of colleges.
When describing the retail examples, respondents from
both groups focused on the importance of using and
valuing older workers’ experience and described in
particular the positive attitude and approach of the over
50s to customer service.
For example:
older workers are treated as experts…they are not
treated as has-beens”
there is a real sharing of knowledge from
experienced people”
they [B&Q] embrace older workers and utilise their
“older sta appear more interested and engaged”
they [older workers] have an approach to dealing
with customers which is dierent to younger sta –
more patient, more knowledgeable”.
Mentoring/reverse mentoring
Flexible working/work life balance
Phased retirement
Keeping in touch
Succession planning
Knowledge sharing
Reducing physical demands
Mentoring/buddy scheme
Flexible working
Phased retirement
Keeping in touch/alumni
Board member
Apprenticeship schemes
Figure 6: Reasons for successful approaches to older workers, by respondent group (HR and over 50s).
The retail sector is seen as the outstanding
role model for success in employing older
B&Q are famous for attracting older workers.
This contributes to both an employer brand
and a customer service principle that mature
employees are valued in the workplace for their
knowledge, experience and ability to engage
with the customer base.
I am not aware of any [successful examples
of using Baby Boomers] which says something
in itself.
There is a change since the days of
a ‘retirement age’. Employees’ competences
bear no relationship to their age!
Age and experience should be valued…they
cannot be re-captured once they have gone
Figure 6 shows the themes that emerged from the
comments from the respondents when describing why
the examples they provided were successful.
There were many similarities across the groups, showing
agreement between HR and the over 50s. Both groups
described how the successful approaches they had
selected benefitted from older workers “coaching” and
“mentoring” younger workers, and how this was of value
to everyone involved. For example: “reverse mentoring
helped younger people develop skills more quickly with
an older mentor, and kept the older workers young at
heart, by introducing them and supporting them to learn
new methods and concepts”.
Older workers (awful term) are to us just
people. Our real success stories are about not
categorising people, but just working
with people.
Both groups of respondents also described how the
examples they chose emphasised the importance of
‘phased retirement’, ‘flexible working’, and therefore
‘work life balance’. As an example, one respondent said:
“... oering flexible retirement, where sta reduce their
hours and can claim their pension whilst still working...
helps to phase them into retirement and having an older
workforce means that not everyone is leaving at once: it
creates a win-win situation.”
The phased retirement approach can benefit individuals
and organisations in a number of ways. Examples provided
by the respondents included providing older workers with
a way to “keep in touch” and provide a period to “share
knowledge” rather than simply walking out of the door.
Finally, many respondents used the opportunity to describe
in more detail how there were no examples that they could
think of, which they found “disappointing” and “upsetting”.
Summary and Implications of these
One of the key findings from the results is that, when
describing successful examples of ways to share
knowledge and experience between generations in the
workplace, older workers need to be valued. Both Baby
Boomer and HR respondents recognise the positive
impact that has on the individual and an organisation.
However, most of the responses around valuing older
workers related to examples in other organisations.
Surprisingly, respondents could think of few, if any,
examples of good practice in their own organisations.
As described in the first part of this section, older workers
often feel overlooked in terms of development. These
findings taken together provide a wake-up call for large
organisations in particular, to think about how valued
their older workers feel, and how their older workers are
portrayed and used. If the employees themselves can
see little in the way of exemplars, then what image will
the organisation have to those outside? What impact
does this have on recruitment and on brand image as an
employer? What added value do Baby Boomers have?
There is a real internal and external PR opportunity
for organisations to showcase positive examples of
knowledge and experience sharing and of the customer
service attitude of Baby Boomers. These actions will
demonstrate a culture that values the over 50s, grow the
status of Baby Boomers who demonstrate these skills and
add external value/brand to the organisation itself.
Having seen what Baby Boomers want from work,
and how they and their HR colleagues view what
Baby Boomers need in terms of training and
development, passing on accumulated skills, and their
visibility within organisations in developmental terms, the
final section of findings looks at practical solutions to help
the over 50s continue to thrive in the last 20-30 years of
their working lives.
6 Findings Section 3:
The Solution
6 Findings Section 3:
The Solution
Baby Boomers were asked to list any of their skills/talents
of benefit to their organisation which are not being
utilised fully at the moment. There was a strong response
to this open question: 1274 instances of unused skills
were list by 674 respondents in the survey. These
responses were grouped into five categories as shown in
Figure 7:
Figure 7: Baby Boomer skills not being used in the
workplace (over 50s responses).
Developing others
The largest response (33%), grouped into ‘developing
others’, included coaching and mentoring, (which made
up 16% of the overall total), experience sharing, advising
and educating others. Many of these senior people
expressed frustration that they could not make use of
their wide experience and knowledge to develop others.
Strategic skills
Next most frequent, (32%), were the higher business
skills, those involving leadership, strategy and change
management, international development, analysis,
planning and people management. This group felt
that they had some key strategic skills, which they had
developed through years of experience, and which could
be better exploited. Particular mention was made of the
fact that this wide experience meant that they had to
ability to transfer their talents to new situations, and were
willing to do just that. Baby Boomers want to take on new
‘Bridging’ skills
The highest level of frustration however, came in the 19%
of responses which described ‘bridging’ or facilitation
skills such as negotiation, mediation and relationship-
building, along with accompanying personal abilities
such as emotional intelligence, calmness, inspiration and
motivational capabilities. The over 50s want to make
use of these people skills, which, due to the fact they
are developed over time, are a key asset in this group
compared to other people of working age.
My employers underestimate the
importance of my experience of dealing with
Business sector skills
11% of the answers concerned specific business skills,
such as talents in IT, HR activities or sales and marketing.
Again, these results indicate that, even within the area
of business in which they are currently working, Baby
Boomers felt they could add much more value based on
their specific skillset.
I have years of experience at a senior level
within the HR function. I have to undertake HR
Assistant work which takes me away from my
strategic and partnering of senior leaders... I am
a very expensive ‘HR assistant’.
Interestingly, 4% of the sample claimed that “all my skills
are being used”.
The Solution – Using Key Skills and Motivating
Baby Boomers
6.1 Unused Skills
Strategic skills
All used
Baby Boomers want to use their
experience to coach and mentor others.
Summary and Implications of these
Baby Boomers are definitely keen to do more at work.
The implications of the specific areas raised by the
respondents in answer to this question and a discussion
on potential ways forward are described below.
I could transfer lots of day-to-day skills,
but I can be seen as a ‘has been’ due to age.
Coaching and mentoring
This survey reveals that there is untapped talent
which can be used to enhance the capabilities of both
individuals and the organisations where they work.
HR respondents repeatedly described the importance
of coaching, and Baby Boomers want to develop
others through coaching and mentoring. However, are
both groups defining coaching in the same way? Are
they describing the same thing? How can the Baby
Boomers desire to coach be fulfilled to the benefit of
the organisation? Has a cost-benefit analysis been done
on the value of developing others (particularly younger
colleagues) and on the cost of loss of knowledge when
Baby Boomers leave?
A key aspect of coaching and mentoring concerns
the skills and abilities of the over 50s. Baby Boomers
and HR respondents both stated that coaching and
mentoring training and development would be beneficial
to employees over 50 years. Some Baby Boomers are
fantastic as mentors for others and are sought-after by
their colleagues. There are opportunities, if all parties
are willing, to increase this role for Baby Boomers to
the benefit of both the organisation and the individuals
concerned. However, in previous research32 it has been
shown that there can be a dierence between how good
a manager sees him/herself as a coach/mentor and how
good young employees view those managers to be (see
box on the following page).
It is important that coaching and mentoring in
organisations is increased, but the programme needs
to develop those with the greatest capabilities. Not
everyone makes a great coach. So for those whose
talent falls short, how else can knowledge and
experience be shared in an organisation? Overall, this
lack of business experience sharing is a demographic
timebomb. It should not be ignored.
Using people skills
Very importantly, it is worth investigating areas where
those people skills, such as negotiating, influencing
and inspiring can be exploited. The over 50s claim
they have excellent qualities in cross-functional
knowledge and ability to think broadly, supported by
well-developed networks of contacts. They also cite
emotional intelligence, calmness and curiosity. Senior
people have developed these non-operational talents,
which may not be valued explicitly or used fully in their
current roles. These skills may not be visible in a job
description or on a CV, but are critical to the smooth
running of an organisation. When a person leaves the
work environment, these talents may be missed more
than ‘technical’ skills.
Exploiting accumulated talents for new ventures
Many of the Baby Boomers feel that they have developed
a broad viewpoint and set of skills which could be used
to expand the corporate business horizons, for example,
to set up new international operations or lead major
strategic reviews.
Sector expertise
Specific business skills also deserve a second look.
Perhaps an HR Director has talent in a particular evaluative
tool or performance management; maybe a financial
expert could spend time as a consultant or a general
manager help lead an IT strategy programme?
Even within a specific business operation,
Baby Boomers feel they have talents that could
be used more consistently.
Stay the same
Some people mentioned that they felt all their skills
were being used. In addition, those people who did not
answer this question may have felt all their skills were
being used. If this is true, then maintaining the current
situation is win-win for both the organisation
and the individual. But, this response also deserves more
scrutiny. Is the person burying their head in the sand and
avoiding any thought of change, or even longer term
of retirement? Is this a person who may need to look
at their talents and skills and explore new challenging
opportunities for themselves, and through knowledge
transfer, for others? Previous Ashridge research33 has
shown that Gen Y are outwardly confident, but inwardly
less so. Is there a similar situation with Baby Boomers
where they voice that they can continue in the same
role, but are too frightened to acknowledge they want
or need to change? From the open question replies it
appears that there was a mixture of those who were
genuinely happy and fulfilled using their current skills
and those who may be avoiding the issue; this situation
suggests that a response of ‘everything is fine’ needs to
be explored.
In Ashridge’s Culture Shock: Generation Y and their Managers around the World report34, more
managers think they are successful coaches and mentors than do their Gen Y employees. The dierence
was shown to be greatest in the UK, where 75% of managers reported they were good coaches but only
26% of Gen Y agreed.
Why the discrepancy and what can be done?
There may be many explanations, but on an individual basis it is worth trying to understand why these
relationships are not working. It may be that the younger generation is looking for more help and support
than the managers are willing and able to supply. In some cases that may be a real issue; in others it
might be that the young people need to be further encouraged to be more independent. The attitudes
and behaviour of both parties may not be compatible – on a personal basis or in terms of the approach
used. Baby Boomers have at times been known to behave as if ‘my way is the only way’ and need to be
encouraged to be open-minded in their support of change. Younger employees may be closed to ‘old
fashioned’ approaches. The two people may just not feel that their personalities are compatible, in which
case a new partnership should be sought.
Our research shows that those individuals who are successful at coaching and mentoring have a high
demand for their services and word-of-mouth recommendation is strong. Find out why this person is
successful, publicise that success and aim to develop others who have the potential to emulate the expert.
Are managers as good at coaching as they think they are?
Manager as coach/mentor: how Gen Y and their managers see their relationship
Middle East India Malaysia UK
I can progress. Persuading colleagues
to let me have a go at new things gets
harder year on year.
I have developed experiences of things /
ideas coming round again. I want to help avoid
re-inventing the wheel.
“Gen Y” “Mgrs”
key skills
Move on
No change
Developing others
The vast majority (46%) of Baby Boomers wanted to
spend their last few years in the work environment
developing others in the organisation. The greatest
number of comments revolved around two main
roles: coaching and mentoring (especially of younger
colleagues) and acting as an advisor on the side/
troubleshooter – someone who could exploit their
own experience, but step away from the day-to-day
leadership and operational roles to take a fresh view of
the organisation. Sharing their experience and educating
others were also important in this category.
I would like to be more of a ‘free ranging
Coaching and mentoring. I have come to
realise that people can survive most things and
come out better at the end of the experience; the
worst case scenario is often not that bad. I think
a calm and measured approach to working life
would be helpful to our employees, who are often
caught up in the email and media war.
Business leadership
Next in importance (19%), came those activities which
revolved around leading the business – strategy,
leadership, programme management, people
management and looking to stretch the business
overseas. The Baby Boomers felt that they should drive
the organisation forward in their last few years at work.
Many mentioned the desire to leave a legacy.
The challenge is continuing to provide
‘status’ where they may be ramping down their
career involvement.
In summary, Baby Boomers are still ambitious and want to be
challenged. A common sense of frustration came across in the
survey. A significant proportion of Baby Boomers may well be
overlooked in terms of continuing to advance their careers and
in being able to make use of the varied skills which they have
developed over time.
6.2 What More Could Baby Boomers Give Back?
Figure 8: How Baby Boomers want to spent their last
few years at work (over 50s responses).
There is a real opportunity to re-evaluate
all talents held by Baby Boomers and
work to make better use of them.
46% of Baby Boomers want to spend
their time developing others.
Baby Boomers were asked to describe the role they
would like to play in their last few years at work, in terms
of what they would do and how it would be of value to
their organisation and themselves. 561 people provided a
total of 990 replies, which are shown clustered into seven
categories in Figure 8.
Functional expertise
In a similar vein, some 6% of the respondents wanted to
make use of functional skills in business that they had
developed over the years, but had not been used fully.
They wanted to ‘do more’ in areas where their largely
untapped talents lay, in this case they revolved mainly
around HR, business development and marketing, IT
and consultancy. There were many respondents who felt
their people skills could be used in the neglected area of
relationship development, whether inside or outside the
People skills
7% wanted to use their years of experience in a new cross-
functional role, exploiting their people and communication
skills - in facilitation, negotiation, relationship building, and
removing silos and entrenched positions. They mentioned
personal skills which they had developed over time such
as emotional intelligence, an open mind and ability to
view issues from multiple perspectives. They also said
they had strong skills to motivate and inspire others, and
to champion causes. There was a common desire to step
out of the operational roles they had held and speak
frankly about how the organisation could improve. The
respondents came across as passionate about wanting
make use of these abilities.
I would stop attending meetings that did not
actually add any value and use the new released
capacity to go into every service and understand
their problems. I would ensure the ‘right decisions’
are taken at the top, based on evidence and
stop others making decisions based on wrong
information, political correctness or because
‘other organisations are doing it so it must be
I would be a ‘Wise coach’ or ‘Sensai’ to
developing and aspiring managers and leaders.
I would love to be able to support people develop
their own ideas without the risk of reinvention,
to nurture them into becoming eective and
compassionate leaders.
Try something dierent
The phrase ‘part time’ occurred often in the responses
and 9% of the respondents said they wanted to either
reduce their hours over time, or move out of the current
organisation to something dierent – perhaps in the
voluntary sector, or in a new environment/dierent sized
organisation. These people did not want their current role
to dominate their lives as they headed for retirement.
I want a critical friend role: using the lack
of fear of failure/no longer worrying about career
limiting actions to critically challenge systems,
process and behaviours, for the purpose of
I would focus on special projects with
specific goals and teams to achieve positive
change instead of being caught up in
day-to-day admin.
Stay the same
Ten percent of the Baby Boomers felt they would
continue in their current role. Some claimed that they
were totally fulfilled and felt that was the way to continue
into their seventies. However, it is interesting that some
perhaps misread the meaning of the question, or, more
importantly, were avoiding needing to think about a
transition from their current role, at some time in the next
five to 20 years. They said they would just continue as
is. Previous Ashridge research35 has shown that younger
employees feel more senior colleagues have become
fearful of change and try to maintain the status quo. Is
remaining in the same role good for the employee and
the organisation?
I’m pretty much doing what I want at work!
Lucky me.
Transitioning their role to a new person or group was
on the mind of 3% of the sample. They felt that their
current job would occupy them until retirement, but they
could see that both they and the organisation should put
eort into this changeover. Many mentioned leaving the
business/their area of responsibility in excellent shape
when they left.
Summary and Implications of these
Baby Boomers want to step out of their
current operational roles.
In this section, more than any of the others, the personal
voices of the Baby Boomers came across, expressing
their real desires for fulfilment at work.
Don’t sideline me; I want to change
Baby Boomers don’t want to be sidelined – they don’t
want to stop working; they feel they are still adding value,
and are still ambitious, but they would like to be dierent.
Let me be a coach
Coaching and mentoring is a key ambition. How much
are senior people allowed to coach at the moment? Is
there opportunity for more? Are Baby Boomers good at
coaching others or do they just think they are? Previous
Ashridge research highlights a gap in this area36.
So, given that not all Baby Boomers are great coaches
and there may not be room for all to fulfil this role, what
should be done to match the desire with a positive
outcome? How can the best people be moved more
into this role and how can coaching and mentoring skills
be honed?
Move me out of operations
Is it time to stop thinking of leaders as responsible
for sales/finance/operations, and more as those with
vast experience and ability to view the organisation
dierently? Is the value to the organisation and the
individual in a non-operational role higher than at the
moment? Senior managers want to add more value and
feel frustrated by their current position. There were a
large number of comments about a real desire to change
the status quo, to be away from the constrictions of a job
which has hierarchical reporting responsibilities and to
sit at the side to really get underneath the organisation
to see what needs changing. Baby Boomers want time
to think and to use their accumulated experience. Why is
this not happening more extensively? Is their frustration
with being viewed only as operational experts driving the
over 50s to look outside, or is it a natural progression?
Baby Boomers are looking for a strategic advisory
role. How would such a role be constructed? Are there
dierent forms it could take? And, once again, how much
room can be made for such advisory positions? Four key
areas were mentioned most frequently, with by far the
largest being Non-Executive Director. Where, inside and
outside their current organisations, could Baby Boomers
fill such roles and how could they be helped to find them?
Also key were board positions, international roles and
working more closely with clients. Given today’s fast-
paced business world, there may be real opportunities
for Baby Boomers to add value by spending more time
cultivating and developing business relationships.
Be bold; I want to leave a legacy
There is a strong message that Baby Boomers want to
leave a legacy, to be seen to have done something that
people will remember. Does this mean that organisations
can get bolder about what they oer some of their best
senior executives: move them sideways to be a guru, run
a more risky project, revamp the organisation strategy?
They may well be willing to take up the challenge and
have stronger drive than they may have done when in the
middle of their careers. Organisations may have become
too focused on the day-to-day business and perhaps
have trodden a familiar path for too long. Given Baby
Boomers are ambitious and may have even more drive to
succeed than they did before, combined with experience
and a desire to look across the whole organisation, are
there opportunities to ask these experienced people
to take on more dramatic roles? Is there an untapped
group of Baby Boomers who would succeed in mergers
and acquisitions, corporate restructuring, exploring
challenging new markets or product lines, or being the
plain-speaking ‘conscience’ of the organisation? There
were plenty of comments in the survey about “cutting
through ‘bull’”, meetings of no value, getting rid of people
who are not ecient, and making major changes.
Many small and medium enterprises may benefit from
the experience of a Baby Boomer who wants new
challenges, but is able to see the big picture and has
good contacts. These smaller organisations have an
opportunity to try and attract Baby Boomers who may be
keen to help, work locally and for fewer hours.
There are also opportunities for larger companies
to increase the time executives spend in outreach
programmes or charitable work, so that Baby Boomers
can make use of their untapped talents, boosting their
personal motivation, whilst still retaining strong links to
their organisations.
I don’t want to talk to HR
There is an opportunity for consulting support to help
both the organisation and individuals aged 50-75
to review career plans, without fear of comeback of
being sidelined, backhandedly forced into retirement,
or experiencing a loss of status. The comments in this
survey were honest and forthright, but from discussions
with Baby Boomers at work, they are not the ideas and
plans that are put forward in conversations with HR and
with peers. Perhaps there is a strong fear of formalising a
conversation about their future roles? They may fear that
it turns into a dead end retirement planning conversation
when they are looking for a portfolio career discussion
or an ambitious new role.
Are senior people therefore not speaking up and saying
what they really think? Is there an HR culture which is
out of step with the over 50s in the workplace? Is HR
too focused on pragmatic training, mandated regulations
and following the rules? This idea is reinforced through
discussions with HR executives. One enlightened
organisation is beginning to realise the need:
“There is beginning to be a move away from HR policies
(like flexible working etc.) to encourage managers to
have discussions with workers, to create a dialogue”.
A spokesperson for another company noted a dierent
approach: “We now have ‘o the record’ conversations
with older employees because if you have an on the
record conversation it becomes discriminatory”.
The worry is that the organisation is losing out and
the individuals are becoming very frustrated (possibly
stressed, most certainly giving less than their best)
because of this elephant in the room. “Sometimes you
can have situation where someone has an o the cli
retirement when they could have maybe have done
something a little bit dierent,” said one HR executive.
There is both a challenge and an opportunity for HR
to find a way of gaining the trust of Baby Boomers and
working with them to find ways to give appropriate
and challenging opportunities to this age group, in the
same way that such opportunities are given to those
employees in the first years at work.
My organisation is very focused on talent
development for younger employees and on the
‘problems’ of moving older employees to make
way for these, without having good business-
valuable solutions for older employees.
7 Modelling Baby Boomer Needs
7 Modelling Baby Boomer Needs
7.1 Changing Direction and Ambitions
Figure 9: Baby Boomer work ambitions.
Change OutSame
Stay in the
same job Hand over job
Leave company;
new role
Sideways move:
Advisor, facilitator, strategist, non-exec director
New projects:
grow business; expand geographies; client relationships
Develop others:
Coach/mentor/knowledge sharing
The segments may be further subdivided as follows:
1. Stay the same
This section possibly consists of two groups – those
happy, on reflection, to remain as they are and those
who are avoiding thinking about the future. The latter
group may need to be encouraged to reflect on their
direction over the next few years. The first group needs
to ensure their ambitions are in line with their capabilities
and with the needs of the organisation. Both groups
should consider plans for transferring their long-held
knowledge and skills to others.
2. Change
Businesses are in a constant state of change, but this
middle section is not just about ‘going with the flow’, but
about Baby Boomers making a conscious change to
something dierent. The scale of that change may be
large or small depending on ambition and opportunities,
but involves the individual remaining primarily in the same
organisation/group of companies as before. There may
however, be an element of outside work. It can be further
subdivided into:
Operational moves:
a. Special projects – taking on new projects or
responsibilities in a dierent area, everything from
setting up a new area of business, to directorships,
to key strategic projects.
b. Progression – moving upwards.
This research has shown that Baby Boomers’ ambitions cover a spectrum of needs from ‘no change’ through a variety
of alterations to their future working life within an organisation, to moving out – whether through finding alternative
employment or retiring. These career/lifestyle desires are shown in Figure 9.
7.2 The Ashridge-Hult Model:
Generational Motivations
Non-operational moves:
Moving out of managing the day-to-day business and
into more of an advisor or developer role.
a. Sideways move to become a guru/advisor helping
to review the business and oer alternative plans.
Sit on boards or become a non-executive director.
Help external businesses, charities or educational
establishments as a consultant.
b. Develop other people, coaching and mentoring,
educating and developing or acting in a facilitative
or mediation role, bringing together groups.
3. Move out
This section is defined by the degree to which someone
moves out and whether that is to remain employed full-
time, work part-time or to retire.
a. A move to a more portfolio career, where the
previous employer now plays a much smaller part.
b. Moving out to a totally dierent organisation for a
dierent career, more in line with current ambitions
and need for fulfilment: changing business size,
business sector and/or location.
c. Retiring.
Of course these dierent segments are not mutually
exclusive. Not only will an individual’s ambitions change
over time, but also the percentage of time spent in each
section and sub-section could vary. One individual may
be content with largely the same role for many years,
with the addition of a small sideline; another will want
a complete change to a new role. The diagram serves
merely as a discussion point on the variety of dierent
options open to today’s Baby Boomers – very few of
which are ‘retire’. It also highlights that every person
is an individual and needs to be treated as such when
discussing his or her future.
Details can be found at
Those who would like to participate
may contact
Based on the complete findings
of the Ashridge intergenerational
research, a model of personal
motivation and drivers at work has
been developed. This model is being
used to explore where the true
priorities lie for working individuals of
all ages. During 2015 and 2016 this
model and its underlying evaluative
questionnaire will be used to further
explore Baby Boomer needs for
their lives. The findings will also
be contrasted with other younger
generations at work. This research
will be published in 2016.
Figure 10: Ashridge-Hult generational motivations model.
8 Conclusions and Recommendations
8.1 Summary
There is no one standard approach to working or
retirement and it is important to consider not only
corporate needs, but also those of the individual, in order
to achieve maximum motivation and productivity.
Baby Boomers are driven by intrinsic needs and it
is important to appeal to these needs in helping to
determine a career path. Baby Boomers at work and
HR departments seem out of step in their approaches
to the wants and needs of this generation at work; Baby
Boomers still want fulfilling work and to use all their skills;
HR is focused on retirement planning. Finding ways to
reconcile these two approaches and to create an open
and trusting environment where Baby Boomers can
discuss their futures will reap enormous benefits. Baby
Boomers do not want to stay in their current operational
roles or be shoved in a corner, heading on a slow path to
retirement. Some key areas to consider include:
Look for sideways moves, or projects/activities
that motivate Baby Boomers and use their skills –
such as outreach activities, new product or branch
development. Consider ‘moving out of operations’
as a common option for Baby Boomer career
progression. It will stimulate both the Baby Boomers
and those below them waiting for new senior roles.
Find ways to share knowledge and allow Baby
Boomers to coach and mentor. Not all are capable
of this role, but many can be developed and some
are ‘naturals’. Don’t let the years of accumulated
knowledge walk out the door.
Showcase Baby Boomers who role model career
moves in their 50s and 60s and who are great
coaches. It will encourage others. Celebrate
those who leave for fulfilling options outside the
Try to find ways that Baby Boomers can make
use of their specialist skills accumulated
through experience – people skills, relationship
management, facilitation, calmness, honesty,
understanding project risk factors and major
programme management.
Investigate anyone who may want to ‘stay the same’
in their job. Is it because the role and person are
both doing well, or is it a fear of change?
Let Baby Boomers with the right skills try out ‘risky’
projects that others may not want to tackle. Let them
speak their minds on organisational success and
failures – and listen to them.
Review training for Baby Boomers. Are they being
allowed to progress or is the full focus on the
younger people at work? Are the over 50s avoiding
training which may be essential to them? Get the
right balance of ‘retirement planning’ education – it
may not be in the minds of Baby Boomers, but at
the same time it may be necessary.
Most importantly, build up a culture of trust so that
discussions on career do not lead to an assumption
of ‘on the road to retirement’, but explore all
possibilities for the future.
There cannot be room to move every Baby Boomer
into a dierent role to exploit all their skills and talents.
There is not space for an organisation full of mentors, but
there is room and an enormous scope to develop Baby
Boomers further, and to explore ways of using those
accumulated talents. There is the opportunity too, to treat
Baby Boomers as individuals and tailor a future that fulfils
them. This highly experienced generation deserves the
chance to shine.
8.2 Next Steps and
Get Involved
The next phase of this research involves qualitative
data on Baby Boomers, with an emphasis on in-depth
interviews and focus groups of the over 50s at work,
and HR sta working in an organisation that employs
over 50 year olds. It further develops the Generational
Motivations model as a tool for organisations to use to
facilitate exploration of working lives for people over the
age of 50.
Do you have any comments or feedback? What is
important to you in your working life? What is important
to your organisation, your colleagues? What is working/
not working in terms of your career ambitions? Tell
us! Individuals and organisations that would like to
participate in Phase 2 are encouraged to contact: and/or
1 Murray, S. (2014, October 23). Baby Boomer generation
just refuses to quit. Financial Times, Appointments p1.
2 Kelsey, L. (2015, September 22). Retire at 65? I can’t
think of anything worse. The Daily Telegraph, p 23.
3 Shorthouse, R. (2015, September 21). The Baby Boomers
are not selfish. Telegraph. Retrieved from http://www.
4 Badham, V. (2015, August 13). Stop blaming the Baby
Boomers. Some are trying to save the world. The
Guardian. Retrieved from
5 Hay, B. and Gowdridge, A. (2015, January 21). Meet the
multigenerational workforce of the future. The Guardian.
Retrieved from
6 Oce for National Statistics (ONS) (2015). UK Labour
Market Statistical Bulletin, July 2015. Retrieved from
7 Loretto, W., & White, P. (2006). Employers’ attitudes,
practices and policies towards older workers. Human
Resource Management Journal, 16 (3), 313-330.
8Oce for National Statistics (ONS) (2013). What does the
2011 census tell us about older people? Retrieved from
9 CIPD (2013). Megatrends, The trends shaping work and
working lives. Retrieved from
10 Oce for National Statistics (ONS) (2015).
(As endnote 6).
11 Age Action Alliance (2014). Managing the health and
productivity of an ageing workforce. An employer
resource: Solutions to employer questions. Retrieved
12 UK Commission for Employment and Skills (UKCES)
(2014). Four-generation workplaces on the rise as report
reveals the future of work.
13 BITC Business in the Community (2014). The Missing
million: Illuminating the employment challenges of the
over 50s. Retrieved from
14 The Age of No Retirement http://www.
15 BITC Business in the Community (2014). (As endnote 13).
16 Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) (2014). Fuller
working lives – A framework for action. Retrieved from
17 Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) (2014).
Fuller working lives – Background evidence. Retrieved
18 Ashridge and ILM (2011). Great Expectations: Managing
Generation Y, Institute of Leadership and Management/
Ashridge Business School report. Retrieved from http://
19 Ashridge and MSLGroup (2014). The Millennial
Compass - Truths about the 30-and-under Generation in
the Workplace. Retrieved from
20 ILM and Ashridge (2015). Attract, Grow, Engage:
Optimising the talents of an age-diverse workforce,
Institute of Leadership and Management/Ashridge
Business School Guide. Retrieved from https://www.i-l-m.
9 References
21 Honoré, S. & Paine Schofield, C. B. (2009) Generation
Y: Inside Out. A multi-generational view of Generation
Y - learning and working. An Ashridge Business School
Report. Retrieved from
22 Honoré, S. & Paine Schofield, C. B. (2012). Culture
Shock: Generation Y and their managers around the
world. An Ashridge Business School Report. Retrieved
23 Paine Schofield, C. B. & Honoré, S. (2015). A New
Generation: The success of Generation Y in GCC
countries. An Ashridge Business School Report.
24 Deci, E.D. and Ryan, R. M. (2002). Handbook of
self determination research. New York: University of
Rochester Press.
25 Twenge, J. M. (2010). A review of the empirical
evidence on generational dierence in work attitudes.
Journal of Business and Psychology, 25 (2), 201-210.
26 Twenge, J.M., Campbell, S., Homan, B.J. and Lance,
C.E. (2010). Generational dierences in work values:
Leisure and extrinsic values increasing, social and
intrinsic values decreasing. Journal of Management, 36,
27 Kooij, D., De Lang, A., Jansen, P. and Dikkers, J.
(2007). Older workers’ motivation to continue to work:
five meanings of age. A conceptual review. Journal of
Managerial Psychology, 23 (4), 364-394.
28 Baumeister, R. F., & Leary, M. R. (1995). The need
to belong: Desire for interpersonal attachments as a
fundamental human motivation. Psychological Bulletin, 117,
29 Flint-Taylor, J., and Davda, A. (2015). Understanding and
developing personal resilience. In R.J. Burke, K.M.Page,
and C.L. Cooper (eds) Flourishing in Life, Work and
Careers. Cheltenham; Edward Elgar. 67-82.
30 Oce for national Statistics (ONS) (2015). Job related
training received by employees, August 2016.
31 Tacchino, J. I. (2013) Will Baby Boomers phase into
retirement? Journal of Financial Service Professionals ,
67(3), 41-48, p.41
32 Honoré, S. & Paine Schofield, C. B. (2012).
(As endnote 22).
33 Honoré, S. & Paine Schofield, C. B. (2009).
(As endnote 21).
34 Honoré, S. & Paine Schofield, C. B. (2012).
(As endnote 22).
35 Honoré, S. & Paine Schofield, C. B. (2012).
(As endnote 22).
36 Ashridge and ILM (2011). (As endnote 18).
10 Appendices
Full Prole of Respondents
Age HR (%)
BB (%)
20 - 25 years 1.0 N/A
26 - 30 years 3.2 N/A
31 - 35 years 7.8 N/A
36 - 40 years 9.6 N/A
41 - 45 years 16.9 N/A
46 - 49 years 15.7 N/A
50 - 55 years 28.2 53.2
56 - 60 years 12.7 32.8
61 - 65 years 3.2 10.6
66 - 70 years 1.7 2.7
71 - 75 years 0 0.4
Over 75 years 0 0.2
Gender HR (%)
BB (%)
Male 23.2 42.3
Female 76.8 57.7
Employment Status HR (%)
BB (%)
Full time employed 89.2 79.8
Retired 0.2 0.9
Part time employed 8.6 9.6
Not in employment 0 0.4
Self employed 1.7 7. 6
Portfolio career (multiple
part time jobs) 0.2 1.8
Size of organisation HR (%)
BB (%)
Small (Up to 50 employees) 4.7 12.5
Medium (51-1000 employees) 48.6 38.5
Large (over 1000 employees) 46.7 49.0
Region currently work HR (%)
BB (%)
UK 92.6 93.4
Continental Europe 4.1 3.4
North America 0.3 0.7
Central & South America,
Caribbean 0.5 0.2
Africa 0.8 0.6
Middle East 0.5 0.8
Australia, New Zealand and
rest of Oceania 00.4
Rest of Asia 0.5 0.3
Eastern Asia
(China, Hong Kong, Macao,
Japan, Korea)
0.3 0.2
Southern Asia
(Afghanistan, Bangladesh,
Bhutan, India, Iran, Maldives,
Nepal, Pakistan, Sri Lanka)
0.5 0.1
% over 50 in organisation HR (%)
Less than 10% 11.3
10-25% 34.2
26-50% 45.2
51-75% 8.8
Over 75% 0.5
Research Department
Hult International Business School
Hertfordshire HP4 1NS
United Kingdom
ISBN: 978-1-910025-16-1
Printed on paper that is 100% recycled or from sustainable sources.
Ashridge is committed to sustainable development
Registered as Ashridge (Bonar Law Memorial) Trust.
Charity number 311096.
About this Research
This research project builds upon our previous research into the youngest generation in today’s workforce,
Generation Y, by focusing on Baby Boomers in the workplace. A survey of 2045 Baby Boomers (those aged 50
years and over, working or recently retired) and HR sta (of any age, working in an organisation that employs over
50 year olds), explored what the older generation ‘gets’ from working longer (personal wants and needs) and what
they ‘give’ back – their contribution of wisdom, knowledge, experience and insight to younger colleagues. In the
findings sections, comparisons are made between responses from HR sta and Baby Boomers.
Our intergenerational research has always explored each generation from the perspective of all others, as well as
from the members of that generational cohort itself, unlike other research, which may just provide an outside-in
view. This Baby Boomer research project completes the circle of our earlier work, providing a more in-depth view
on Baby Boomers and linking it to previous findings on how younger generations view their more
senior colleagues.
The findings from this research highlight many opportunities for organisations and individuals to use Baby
Boomers to their full potential; there are examples of successful working opportunities for the over 50s.
The findings will be of interest to individuals, organisations, HR directors and those interested in the
multigenerational workplace and the workforce of the future.
... The interviews with Baby Boomers allowed them to express their opinions and experience of working life in more detail compared to the survey conducted in the first phase of this research. The results affirm and support all of the findings from the previous intergenerational research report 12 as well as revealing new insights uncovered in this second phase. ...
Full-text available
Organizations are currently facing the retirement of many older workers and the challenge of recruiting and retaining young talent. However, few studies have empirically substantiated generational differences in work values. This study examines the work values of a nationally representative sample of U.S. high school seniors in 1976, 1991, and 2006 (N = 16,507) representing Baby Boomers, Generation X (GenX), and Generation Me (GenMe, also known as GenY, or Millennials). With data collected across time, these analyses isolate generational differences from age differences, unlike one-time studies, which cannot separate the two. Leisure values increased steadily over the generations (d comparing Boomers and GenMe = .57), and work centrality declined. Extrinsic values (e.g., status, money) peaked with GenX but were still higher among GenMe than among Boomers (d = .26). Contrary to popular press reports, GenMe does not favor altruistic work values (e.g., helping, societal worth) more than previous generations. Social values (e.g., making friends) and intrinsic values (e.g., an interesting, results-oriented job) were rated lower by GenMe than by Boomers. These findings have practical implications for the recruitment and management of the emerging workforce.
Full-text available
PurposeThis article reviews the evidence for generational differences in work values from time-lag studies (which can separate generation from age/career stage) and cross-sectional studies (which cannot). Understanding generational shifts is especially important given the coming retirement of Baby Boomer workers and their replacement by those born after 1982 (GenMe/GenY/Millennials). FindingsMost studies, including the few time-lag studies, show that GenX and especially GenMe rate work as less central to their lives, value leisure more, and express a weaker work ethic than Boomers and Silents. Extrinsic work values (e.g., salary) are higher in GenMe and especially GenX. Contrary to popular conceptions, there were no generational differences in altruistic values (e.g., wanting to help others). Conflicting results appeared in desire for job stability, intrinsic values (e.g., meaning), and social/affiliative values (e.g., making friends). GenX, and especially GenMe are consistently higher in individualistic traits. Overall, generational differences are important where they appear, as even small changes at the average mean that twice or three times as many individuals score at the top of the distribution. ImplicationsTo recruit GenMe, companies should focus on work–life balance issues and flexible schedules. Programs based on volunteering, altruistic values, social values, or meaning in work will likely be no more successful than they were for previous generations. The lack of generational differences in job hopping suggests that GenMe workers who are satisfied will be retained. Originality/valueNo previous review has summarized all of the available studies examining generational differences in work values. KeywordsWork values-Generations-Work ethic-Leisure-Extrinsic values
Full-text available
A hypothesized need to form and maintain strong, stable interpersonal relationships is evaluated in light of the empirical literature. The need is for frequent, nonaversive interactions within an ongoing relational bond. Consistent with the belongingness hypothesis, people form social attachments readily under most conditions and resist the dissolution of existing bonds. Belongingness appears to have multiple and strong effects on emotional patterns and on cognitive processes. Lack of attachments is linked to a variety of ill effects on health, adjustment, and well-being. Other evidence, such as that concerning satiation, substitution, and behavioral consequences, is likewise consistent with the hypothesized motivation. Several seeming counterexamples turned out not to disconfirm the hypothesis. Existing evidence supports the hypothesis that the need to belong is a powerful, fundamental, and extremely pervasive motivation.
Full-text available
Purpose Little is known about the motivation for older workers to work and to remain active in the labor market. Research on age and motivation is limited and, moreover, conceptually diverse. This paper aims to address age‐related factors that influence the work motivation of older workers. More specifically, it seeks to examine how various conceptualizations of the age factor affect the direction and termination of the motivation to continue to work of older workers. Design/methodology/approach A literature review of age‐related factors and motivation to continue to work is the approach taken in the paper. Findings Results from 24 empirical and nine conceptual studies indicate that most age‐related factors can have a negative impact on the motivation to continue to work of older people. These findings suggest that age‐related factors are important in understanding older workers' motivation to continue to work and that further research is needed to more fully understand the underlying processes that govern how these age‐related factors influence the motivation to continue to work. Research limitations/implications Based on the aforementioned findings, the paper was able to formulate a research agenda for future research, such as: a need for a meta‐analysis on age and motivation to determine the actual effect sizes, and additional theoretical attention to the underlying age‐related processes. Practical implications Age‐related factors identified in this study, such as declining health and career plateaus, should be addressed by HRM policies. HRM practices that could motivate older workers to continue to work include ergonomic adjustments and continuous career development. Originality/value Research on age and motivation is limited and conceptually diverse. This paper is one of the first studies to explore the relations between different conceptualizations of age and motivation.
Despite policy emphasis on the importance of older workers (i.e. those aged 50 and above) to current and future labour markets, relatively little is known about the ways in which employers' attitudes, policies and practices influence their recruitment and retention. Drawing upon previous work by Taylor and Walker, this article reports qualitative research among employers across Scotland, which sought to investigate further the relationships between employers' policies, practices and attitudes towards older workers. The findings indicate a complex set of relationships, and challenge the simplistic causal link between attitudes and practice. The conclusions discuss the implications of these findings for the future employment of older workers, and assess the extent to which the forthcoming age discrimination legislation in the UK is likely to tackle discriminatory attitudes, practices and policies.
Baby Boomer generation just refuses to quit. Financial Times, Appointments p1
  • S Murray
Murray, S. (2014, October 23). Baby Boomer generation just refuses to quit. Financial Times, Appointments p1.
Retire at 65? I can't think of anything worse. The Daily Telegraph
  • L Kelsey
Kelsey, L. (2015, September 22). Retire at 65? I can't think of anything worse. The Daily Telegraph, p 23.
The Baby Boomers are not selfish
  • R Shorthouse
Shorthouse, R. (2015, September 21). The Baby Boomers are not selfish. Telegraph. Retrieved from http://www. The-baby-boomers-are-not-selfish.html
Stop blaming the Baby Boomers. Some are trying to save the world. The Guardian
  • V Badham
Badham, V. (2015, August 13). Stop blaming the Baby Boomers. Some are trying to save the world. The Guardian. Retrieved from commentisfree/2015/aug/13/stop-blaming-the-babyboomers-some-are-trying-to-save-the-world