The Gray Ceiling

gray hair ladyIsn’t great that at least once a month someone comes up with a new baby boomer phenomenon with a clever name?

Now it appears that because boomers won’t get out of the workplace fast enough, they are forcing Gen Xers to hit their heads on the Gray Ceiling.

By the year 2016, one quarter of all U.S. workers will be age 55 or over. Are we working longer because we want to? Maybe a small percentage find their work that rewarding, but I would guess many would be happy to blow off work today if they felt monetarily secure enough to retire.

A Pew Research Center report indicates that 63 percent of workers age 50 to 61 will stay on the job past their planned retirement age because of the current state of the economy. Given that we are looking at a long slow recovery, the joke that we are going to die at our desks does not seem far from the truth.

For employers, the gray ceiling means they have to get their boomer employees to share some of the knowledge they currently use as leverage to stay on the job, without giving the sense they are going to be pushed out to make room for the Xers.

It doesn’t help that boomers are comfortable with a seniority system while Generation X is more inclined to want to be rewarded for their contributions rather than time served.

Companies that want to negotiate this intergenerational gray balding mandivide are replacing the career ladder with a career lattice. Generation X is moving laterally in the organization rather than always assuming they need to move up. Boomers can be mentors in this process as they also learn to play a different role than in the past. Another way to make room for the next generation is to move to part-time or consultant roles where boomers can still share their knowledge and experience while the Xer learns to take the reins.

I’ve always felt that “gray matter” can be useful to any organization. There is a lot to be said for knowing where the bodies are buried, what’s been tried before, and just as importantly, what might be worth trying again. If Xers and boomers can powershare effectively, not only do the generations win, so does the organization.

Viva la eminence gris!

Jay Harrison is a graphic designer and writer whose work can be seen at DesignConcept. He's written a mystery novel, which therefore makes him a pre-published author.

Got a 400 word essay you'd like to contribute? Click here.
Sign up for BoomSpeak Email Updates



© 2006-2013 ConceptDesign, Inc. Terms of Use
BoomSpeak - For babyboomers - by babyboomers.