Boomers Worked (and Worked) for The Man

Mister Boomer has explored many things that have changed since the heyday of the Boomer Era, and now here’s one more: workplace loyalty. As boomers entered the full-time workforce in the sixties and seventies, their attitudes toward employers and the workplace was relatively unchanged from what was put forth by their parents’ generation. That is, if you worked hard for an employer, you could stay a lifetime — throughout your working career. In return, your employer would take care of your interests with a living wage, healthcare, and a benefits package that included a pension on retirement. It was a reciprocal loyalty arrangement that went on after the War until the 1980s.

Fifty years ago nearly three-quarters of workers received some sort of pension from their employers. The idea had always been that a pension, plus Social Security, would sustain a retiree and dependents the remainder of their lives. Today that figure has flipped to less than one quarter. Some union and government jobs are the last remaining strongholds for individual worker pensions. What happened?

Most observers point to a variety of reasons for the change, including globalization, the dismantling of unions and chiefly, healthy companies cutting their workforce in the 1980s as a means of increasing shareholder value. Automation and outsourcing completed the picture — along with cuts in benefits like contributions to 401(K) plans, healthcare payments and pensions. Employers stated loud and clear that they would no longer be loyal (in the Boomer Era sense) to their employees. As a result, for many boomers, and subsequent generations, employees do not feel they have a compelling reason to stay with any given company for the duration of their working lives. Consequently, the stage was set for an increasingly high turnover rate. Some studies indicate that the average company experiences a twenty to fifty percent loss of employees who are changing jobs each year.

Today’s generation believes they must take control of their own working life because they have no other basis from which to work. It’s not that boomers wanted to be taken care of; on the contrary, we wanted to control our own destinies as well. It’s just that working used to be a mutually beneficial arrangement. That is changing rapidly. This translates to frequent jobs changes, which average every three to five years.

Evidently, Mister Boomer happens to be one of those last remaining long-term employees. He’s put in more than three decades with his current employer. Fortunately, he has not stayed in the same job description for the duration. Mister B actually did try to leave twice, but ended up not moving to another job. Despite his and his co-workers’ loyalty, his employer, as a small firm, provides some benefits, but certainly not a pension.

Like many boomers, Mister B still feels he can make vital contributions to the workforce. However, agism runs rampant in Mister B’s experience. Companies would rather hire fresh young faces than wrinkled remnants of a generation who once itself said, “Never trust anyone over thirty.” As time goes by, perhaps boomers will be given that second-chapter chance. If everyone keeps changing jobs so quickly, a boomer who feels he or she has a good five, ten or fifteen years of concentrated energy to devote to an employer should be an asset in hiring.

Are — or were — you part of the multi-decade loyalists in the workforce, boomers?