Baby Boomers – those born between 1946 and 1966 – are retiring in such numbers that in 2008, more people left the workforce than entered it.

Such is the extent of employees leaving the workforce that in a time of enduring growth for Australia, Mark McCrindle, a notable social researcher, predicts that by 2020 there will be 500,000 jobs – with no one to do them.

In the 2006 Census, the Baby Boomer group was recorded as 41% of the workforce. Australia’s Generational Profile shows that the balance of the workforce will shift from one generation to the other by the year 2020. So if Baby Boomers are retiring from the workforce, who is replacing them?

The inheriting generation has been branded by intergenerational researchers as “Gen Y”. They are aged between 16 and 30 and have often been characteristerised as arrogant, self-absorbed, sceptical, entitled and lazy. Hardly the desired attributes of the next leaders of our nation.

Gen Y currently represents 18% of the workforce, but will make up an estimated 36% by 2020. Conversely, Baby Boomers now represent 36% of the workforce and by the year 2020, they will represent only 16%.

As companies and Governments start to realise that major frontline and management voids loom they are scrambling to find solutions to deal with the pending fallout.

Managing the Intergenerational Shift

Change Management expert, Kevin Dwyer, Director of Change Factory and a Baby Boomer himself, comments, “Our clients across a wide range of industries are realising they need to make changes and introduce systems to manage the intergenerational shift. This changing of the guard represents the biggest human resource challenge facing organisational executives in twenty or more years”

Dwyer says that the problem is two fold.

“One element is the loss of know-how and skills related to making decisions, Baby Boomers have spent many years learning by making mistakes, becoming intuitive In their decision making. The loss of the intangible elements; abilities, professional knacks, private knowledge, knowledge of company history and of decisional contexts, of corporate memory that reside in a Baby Boomers head is substantial.”

“The other element is the tangible elements; data, processes, plans, models, algorithms and documents of analysis and synthesis, which, if the organisation does not have a system of records management, may also be lost when Baby Boomers retire.”

“Add to that drain on corporate memory, the propensity for GenY to change the organisations they work for every four to five years compared with every fifteen years when the Baby Boomers were the same age and there is a recipe for a sustained brain drain”, he concluded.

And it’s not just the older generations that are concerned about the pending Brain Drain; as those coming up through the ranks are seeking guidance and support on how to tackle decisions not only in the workplace but also in life.

Yvette Console, 29, of Hawthorn has worked in the health industry for eight years now and says she is well aware of the wisdom and experience that is set to leave the hospital she works at in the next few years.

“In the health industry we have a wide range of diversity in age and I know that the Baby Boomers bring a loyalty and a stability that my generation just doesn’t have. They almost have a concept of building into the organisation and leaving a legacy. You will see nurses in the one place for 20 to 30 years is some wards, they almost become human pillars of the workplace,” says Ms Console.

“A collaboration needs to occur across all generations where each generations’ model is actually recognised and brought through to the next generation will ensure fresh thinking is matched with sage wisdom,” says Ms Console.

Technology Enablers

Technology, in the form of Electronic Document Records Management Systems (EDRMS) have been used for many years to manage the tangible elements of corporate memory. Surprisingly, Web 2.0 technology so loved by the GenY’s and usually frowned upon by Baby Boomer managers, may yet be a significant part of the collaboration solution desired by Ms Console and her generational cohorts

Traditionally, collaboration efforts between generations includes coaching and mentoring programs.

Traditional mentoring programs have had mixed success. Some organisations that have used internal mentors have often stumbled over the ongoing willingness of senior managers to regularly and reliably take the time to mentor employees or over the capability of the mentor.

Other organisations that have used external mentors have often have trouble justifying the cost of using qualified mentors and find it difficult to determine a return on investment.

EQmentor, a US based company, is pioneering a concept that combines Baby Boomer experience with Gen Y tools in the ultimate intergenerational collaboration, EQmentor’s program operates by capitalising on the wisdom and knowledge of the older generations placing them in Mentor roles and matching them with young leaders – the mentees, all in an online environment.

Utilising tools such as forums, wikis, chatrooms, management libraries and a research database the program is based on improving a key driver of individual performance – Emotional Intelligence Quotient (EQ).

The online component also allows something not experienced in traditional mentoring in the level of confidentiality and openness it allows.

Mentors assigned by EQmentor are stringently qualified. The mentors themselves have access to a master mentor and other resources not available to the mentee to ensure their effectiveness.

Emotional Intelligence

The development of emotional intelligence is a core of element of the EQmentor system. “Emotional Intelligence is no longer just a HR buzzword but rather a tangible way to bridge generation gaps, retain knowledge in an organisation and develop an individual’s capabilities,” Mr Dwyer says. “Improving emotional intelligence is a key to help bridge the gap in intangible elements of corporate memory. Given that Gen Y’s change organisations every four years or so, rapid improvement in emotional intelligence is a necessary element of employee development.

“The idea that companies can rely solely on an individual’s knowledge tangible elements of corporate knowledge to make better decisions is obsolete. By adopting proven programs which strengthen upcoming leaders now, the Australian economy and workforce will be in a much better position than predicted,” Mr Dwyer says. “In addition, organisations need to attract and retain Gen Y employees beyond their current average of just over four years.”

Attracting and Retaining Gen Y

As senior managers in organisations are becoming aware that they need to attract, develop and retain their upcoming leaders now it is obviously important for them to understand what makes these young leaders tick.

Attracting and retaining Gen Y talent requires different policies and approaches than those used for other generational groups.

Research company suggests aligning organisational policies and management structures to the generations’ needs, wants, likes and dislikes so they are viewed as desirable places to work.

Some examples of Gen Y-friendly policies include:

  • Flexible work hours ;
  • Time off work for volunteer work;
  • Technology akin to what they use in their day to day lives – such as iPhone applications;
  • Mentors to guide them and help them;
  • Being able to see how their role fits in within the overall organisations;
  • Investment in new hires and ongoing investment in careers;
  • Experiential, on-the-job or practical learning experiences;
  • Developmental opportunities.


“The Gen Y demographic has grown up in a highly media-saturated environment and as a result are both savvy and sceptical. They are more attracted to things such as time off for volunteer work, training that fits their preferred way of learning and mentoring,” says Mr Dwyer.

“For a generation raised on technology and the internet, to access knowledge and wisdom from a dedicated mentoring program 24hours a day seven days a week just makes sense,” says Mr Dwyer of programs such as EQmentor.

The online mentoring program not only gives the mentees someone they can learn from and seek guidance but it also gives the mentors an outlet to pour their experience and wisdom into.

“I think my parents’ generation was all about building – building a life and family whereas there is a focus in my generation on living for the now. I see that Baby Boomers save for the future whereas Gen Y save for today,” says Ms Console.

For Gen Yers such as Ms Console the future is always going to be bright; the optimistic tendencies of this generation ensure that, how bright though will very much depend on how committed they are to understanding that simply cannot get by without working together with the ones that have gone before them.

* US Dept of Labor 1959 & Australian Labour Market Statistics Cat. 6105.0