Book review: The post-boomer workplace

The Leisure Economy: How Changing Demographics, Economics and Generational Differences Will Reshape Our Lives and Our Industries

By Linda Nazareth. Wiley & Sons. $32.99

What’s not to love about starting a new job?

There’s the farewell tour with your old employer. Your final victory lap is free of meetings, deadlines and deliverables. If you haven’t overstayed your welcome, there’s a happy goodbye party with fabulous parting gifts.

My best party was also my first. The whole office turned out for an extended lunch on the corporate charge card. Co-workers gave me an answering machine and phone to stay in touch (I didn’t) and ordered the restaurant’s house specialty for dessert — a brownie ice cream sundae served in a kid’s sandbox pail with a plastic shovel as the spoon. In retrospect, shovelling a pail full of whipped cream and brownie into your mouth like an eight-year-old is maybe not the best lasting impression to make.

Then comes your new job with an extended honeymoon that can last for weeks or even months. If you screw up, no worries. You’re still learning the ropes. Everyone’s so pleased to meet you and happy to have you on board. You’re still clueless about office politics. Every meeting you go to is your first meeting and you’ve yet to discover that the same people have been talking about the same agenda items every week for the past four years. Those other duties as assigned that will make you second-guess your decision to take your new job have yet to be assigned. Life is very, very good.

Yet there’s one problem with starting a new job, and it’s a whopper for anyone with young kids. Your vacation balance gets dialled back to zero. It’ll be a year before you see a paid day off beyond stat holidays. The odds of getting through a year without your kids getting waylaid by ear infections, pink eye or broken feet caused by falling pianos is about the same as winning the Lotto 6/49 jackpot.

Why the year moratorium on vacation days? Maybe employers aren’t mandated by law to pony up free time. Or maybe that’s just the way it is and how it shall always be. I paid my dues and so you will too. You hear rumours about newbies negotiating a boatload of upfront vacation days but no one ever admits to it.

But the times they are a changin’ and time-crunched Gen Xers have boomers to thank, says author, economist and broadcaster Linda Nazareth.

Boomers are retiring and more jobs than ever before are opening up. Anyone with a pulse and a glimmer of leadership potential will do quite well. There aren’t enough 30- and 40-somethings to go around so the balance of power will shift to a generation that graduated into the workforce during the recession of the early 1990s, survived round after round of re-engineering and efficiency projects that flattened organizations and stripped out jobs and who postponed having kids until their careers got established and they could afford to own a home.

"Generation X will be moving into the higher level jobs from which they’ve been blocked for so long by the baby boomers," says Nazareth.

"As they take the helm, they will impose their own values on the workplace."

What Gen Xers want most aren’t promotions and more money. It’s more time and more help in juggling work and home commitments. Nazareth says smart employers will win the talent war with offers of telecommuting, flextime, part-time work, job-sharing, parental leaves and unpaid sabbaticals. Paid time off to volunteer in the community will also be a winner. These are the same perks that may entice boomers to postpone retirement or enjoy semi-retirement.

Michigan-based accounting firm Plante & Moran, which ranked 12th on Fortune magazine’s best places to work list in 2006, is worth taking a long look at. All new employees get a starting package of 20 or 25 days of paid time off, with a combination of vacation and sick days. New mothers are paired up with employees who have families and experience in balancing work and home. There are no set hours for anyone at the company other than receptionists. The company takes a one size fits one approach to human resources management.

"We have been fortunate that we do not seem to have an issue with attracting applicants," says a group managing partner with the firm. "Our culture is attractive to new hires." Big surprise there.

And if you’re having a hard time coming to terms with the priorities of Gen Xers, brace yourself for the expectations of 20-somethings.

Generation Y won’t hesitate to chuck a job to glean a bit of leisure.

As one demographic expert puts it, 20-somethings are as interested in chutes as they are in ladders at work.

"Generation Y treasures their leisure time," says Nazareth. "Recruitment managers are dazed by just how far some take that desire for work-life balance. Those companies that have initiated programs to provide work-life balance often find they have a big carrot with which to attract Gen Y graduates."

There’s a whole lot more to Nazareth’s take on the coming leisure economy, including a whack of business opportunities for serving boomers with time and money on their hands. But for those of us who are wondering who’s going to do the work as boomers retire, this book offers strategies for winning over and locking in more than your fair share of scarce Generation X and Y talent.

Published by

Jay Robb

I've reviewed more than 500 business books for the Hamilton Spectator since 1999 and worked in public relations since 1993.

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