New office crisis: Boomers won't leave!

Dan Drezner


Kai Ryssdal: How you feel about the economy right now might well depend on where you are in the pecking order, generationally speaking. To use a personal finance term here for a second, financial horizons -- that is, the time any given person has left to work and save -- can vary widely. And in light of the great stock market crash of 2008, everybody's reassessing their economic future, including commentator Dan Drezner.

DAN DREZNER: The financial downturn has left all sorts of casualties in its wake: more unemployment, depressed wages, and greater economic uncertainty. But I'd like to direct my angst at a different target -- the baby boomers.

A hidden effect of this crisis is that, in the workplace, as in popular discourse, they simply refuse to get out of the way.

To understand my lament, you have to realize that the oldest of the baby boomers are on the cusp of retirement. For younger generations, this should be a cause for relief. For decades, Gen X-ers like myself have had to hear the standard declarations about the uniqueness of the baby boomers. Maybe they were not the Greatest Generation, but they were the ones who glorified the whole idea of generational identity. For decades, Gen X-ers have had to hear complaints about our political apathy, our popular culture, and our musical tastes.

We have suffered many of these critiques without complaint. Why? Because so many of us worked for so many of them. They were the bosses of the business world. And they were supposed to be retiring very soon, but the recession has changed all that.

In 2008, U.S. workers aged 55 to 64 who had 401(k)'s for at least 20 years saw their retirement balances drop an average of 20 percent. A recent YouGov poll showed two-thirds of this generation have not made the necessary adjustments in their financial planning. This is not a recipe for leaving the workforce anytime soon.

What does this mean for the rest of us? Younger workers who expected promotions when the boomers cleared out are going to have to stew in their own juices. With this job market, looking for a better opportunity elsewhere is not in the cards. Which means that Gen X-ers are going to have to listen to baby boomers doing what they do best -- talk about themselves.

Office politics across the country are going to get a lot nastier. Of course, it could be worse. Generation Y not only has to deal with the boomers, they have to cope with people like me complaining about them.

Ryssdal: Dan Drezner is a professor of international politics at Tufts University.

Log in to post86 Comments


Not only are the Baby Boomers not moving on, but I have also found few willing to share their knowledge with younger generations. I can only assume that this comes from always competing with such a large field they have learned never to share what keeps their jobs secure. I know of some government agencies that require persons nearing retirement age to share their knowledge before moving on. These agencies are using a Wikipedia type system to catalog all this information. If only more companies had this policy. I am slightly conflicted, as my father has recently had to start a new job. I know he somehow raised 5 boys on a salary less then the one I received after collage graduation. I know he plans to work until physical unable then move in with one of us, so I understand why some will need to stay in their jobs longer. Maybe I should just find a field with less Baby Boomers, possibly something in the video game or heavy metal industry?

I've often worried about the very issues that Professor Drezner has raised, but I think that he actually understated the problem. When one generation fails to make room for the next it doesn't just leave the younger generation to stew in their own juices, it can also make them jump ship.

One place where this can be seen is in biomedical research, where talented young scientists are leaving science altogether because of a lack of job opportunities. Not only does this hurt the young scientists, but it hurts tax payers who helped subsidize their education only to have that education go to waste. Even worse, it hurts everyone when the person who had the talent to cure a disease leaves science because a more-senior but less-talented researcher won't give up a seat.

For more information on this problem I recommend a publication that I am not affiliated with called "Broken Pipeline: Flat Funding of the NIH Puts a Generation of Science at Risk." To find this, just do an internet search for "broken pipeline."

I completely agree with this story. My boss is well-above retirement age and unfortunately I work in a very small office, where movement will not occur unless someone above you leaves. And if my boss retiring? No! Economy aside, she was probably thinking she would die in her office chair, a very sad thing for me to hear. I am so frustrated, I am looking for other oppertunities. The future for us Gen-Xers, is filled with dispair...we will we will be unhappy and stuck in our sad little jobs forever because even after a babyboomer retires in the long run, we'll be too far past our prime to be considered to move up. Way to go.

"Babyboomers"? "Genxers"? What kind of stupid talk is this?Do terms like these really define antbody? yet this trite rhetoric is what he builds his thesis on? Has it ever occured to Mr. drezner that this might be class issue rather than a "generation" issue? Or does this fit "Marketplace's compromised format? At any rate, it scares me that Mr. Drezner is actually teaching international relations at a university level. Heaven help us!

Perhaps Mr. Drezner's next commentary should be titled: "The Boomer Problem, A Final Solution". From his commentary and the many Gen-Xers supporting him in this forum, one can add another item to the list of negative descriptors attributed to Gex-Xers, bigots.

Maybe all the Boomers out there should step back and let the generosity of the Xer's support Market Place.

When I graduated from high school in 1971, I looked at my peers and was certain there would be big trouble when we started running the world. But Drezner missed the real problem. Baby Boomers are driven by greed and short-term self interest. If you push us aside because we're in your way, you're no better. Edge us out because you have a better way to achieve the common good.

j m, agreed--but I would point out that I and several other "boomers" here have already pointed out that it is completely idiotic to refer to "boomers" and "generation xers" as "you" and "we." As if a twenty-something account manager, or a fifty-something director, at a financial concern, were in any way the same as people of the same age working at a non-profit, or jobless, or working-class, or in any number of other situations. It is equally ridiculous to assert that one or the other generation is "defensive" or "whiny." As mentioned, although I've seen much more whining from generation-xers in the media than from boomers, the only time I've seen any such whining has been in media like this. I've never seen it in person. Today I went to work among 20-somethings, 30-, 40-, 50- and 60-somethings. Today, as they have for all the months I've worked here, no-one referred to their generation as a monolithic group, or referred to it at all.

The idea that I was responsible for this mess is absurd. All I've done is work honestly, without cutting corners, for decades. All you've done, I bet, is do the same, albeit for a shorter amount of time.

This is nonsense.

And I still want to know: after I retire, am I supposed to starve to death? Or are the complainers going to support me?

These claims of Gen'Xers being entitled seems overly defensive to me. Isn't the experience of a 20-year field veteran worth something? Some of the Gen'Xers are 40 and still waiting for upper management positions. The condition is worse in the nonprofit sector, where some of the boomer generation run organizations with no middle management and plenty of support staff - many of whom have no retirement benefits, are less likely to have health care, and are often contracted workers.

This model is not only shortshighted for the nonprofit field, it endangers a younger generation by prohibiting them from saving for their own futures. Is it entitlement to want to provide for your family, or be taken seriously in the workplace - for your ideas, not just your grunt work? Some boomers may have lost their retirement savings, but a lot of younger individuals don't even have the opportunity to save for retirement, much less lead in the workplace. The Boomers' contribution to this conversation needs to move beyond a knee-jerk "those damned kids" response to a more multi-generational vision of the workplace.

I'm in my early 50's and thought this piece was LOL funny. I was not looking forward much to retirement anyway, so a big drop in the 401k simply confirmed the need to stick around a bit longer. Hooray!

I work in an office with people all ages from 19 on up. There's room for all of us, and each is judged on their ability and enthusiasm, not by the date we appeared on earth.

And the only thing better for us baby boomers than talking about ourselves is to hear someone else do it! Thanks, Dan!

To quote Dan Drezner, "What does this mean for the rest of us? Younger workers who expected promotions when the boomers cleared out are going to have to stew in their own juices."

Boomers may "talk about themselves" but Gen-Xers have a problem with entitlement. Gen-Xers are not entitled to a Boomer's job.


With Generous Support From...