Stanton Chase: As Boomers Retire, GENXers Are Bringing a Unique Perspective to The Workforce

By Paul Herrerias, Managing Director, Stanton Chase; San Francisco

While it’s hard to imagine Baby Boomers fading off into the sunset, it’s apparent there are challenges on the horizon as they retire.

Born between 1946 and 1964, the Boomers experienced the Vietnam War, watched The Twilight Zone, and wore tie-dyed shirts in Haight Ashbury. Many are workaholics, eager to climb the corporate ladder. They bled IBM “blue” and worked for the same organization for 30 years.

Their replacements are GenXers born between 1965 and 1981. As replacements, they may not value longevity, security as we know, or a structured work day. It will likely result in GenXers following in the organizational footsteps of the Boomers while retaining their unique personalities.

Keep in mind that in the United States there are 77 million Boomers moving into retirement, and only 60 million GenXers. However, it’s more than a numbers game. As executive search consultants, we’re seeing some cultural shifts and adjustment of expectations by management.

For example, management seeks a senior-level replacement who wants to be with an organization for another 15-20 years, just like the retiring Boomer. GenXers may not want that longevity. Different incentives are appealing.

While Baby Boomers were defined by their careers, GenXers are not. They value “work/life balance”, preferring freedom and autonomy. They work to live, rather than live to work. They may actually avoid entrepreneurial opportunities.

GenXers are more discerning than their predecessors when it comes to accepting a new position. Some are anxious to relocate. Others are reluctant because their spouses are working. Also, they are the first generation to work anywhere (i.e., home, a coffee shop). A corner office may not be appealing.

Another cultural shift is that many GenXers didn’t invest as much time and effort in learning team skills and have a preference for spending more time outside of work. That said, don’t get the idea that they are less qualified. They just have different definitions of a career, and may have moved up more quickly to fill the voids left by the larger Baby Boomer demographic.

Management will have to understand these differences between the two generations. Boomers were enticed by opportunity, stock options, 401ks, and long-term job security. GenXers may be more interested in flex time, senior-level contract work, work environment, and self-directed retirement plans.

We’re also seeing this dynamic with professional service firms. For example, a privately-held accounting firm with three partners in their 60s needs a succession plan, and looks to younger GenX partners.

However, Gen Xers are in short supply and have fewer years of experience in one niche

  • Gen Xers have more options and thus are pickier
  • They are slower to commit to ownership risk
  • They have different views on team leadership
  • Boomers lack confidence the GenX’ers will fund their retirement, the way Boomers did for the previous generation.

Management of all size firms is finding that GenX candidates are seeking different things in a job – even at the senior level. While it’s difficult to stereotype, the following are factors we’re seeing in the search process:

  • Flex time may be more important than salary/benefits
  • They don’t expect to be with the same company for more than five years. World view is based on change
  • GenXers are socially active and want to be with an organization that shares that focus
  • GenXers are highly educated and are in strong positions to fill the gap
  • Management must understand that they crave challenge, responsibility, and creative input in a less rigid environment preferred by Boomers.

We’re at the start of a workforce/cultural shift at the executive level. Management and GenXers should work together to create the right fit. As we rely more on this younger generation, the specs used to promote Baby Boomers to senior positions are not the same for GenXers. It’s not better or worse. Just different and filling these positions requires flexibility, some creativity and selling skills.

Paul Herrerias is Managing Director of the San Francisco office of Stanton Chase, a global retained executive search firm with 76 offices in 43 countries. For more information, visit


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