The Generational Shift and Retirement Tsunami Facing American Leaders

Updated: Aug 12, 2020


There is a generational shift in the workforce coming that will require a collaborative effort among current and upcoming leaders are in the workplace. A merging of the generations that will need a coordinated effort to make sure that the experience and organizational knowledge in upper management are transferred to the emerging leadership, specifically the differences between the generations of Traditionalist, Baby Boomers, GenX, and Millennials. Boomers and GenXers have an opportunity to impart their knowledge and experience to Millennials.


Sixty Percent of Government Employees are Eligible for Retirement

Almost 60 percent of government employees are eligible to retire (Green & Roberts, 2012). Green and Roberts (2012) identified that the government is concerned that their human capital practices are at “high risk”. Unless management takes this issue seriously they will be looking at a “retirement tsunami” (Green & Roberts, 2012). There is a shift in the workplace makeup as Traditionalist begins to disappear, the retirement of Boomers, and the increasing number of Millennials who are entering the workplace (Gallup, 2013). According to Green and Roberts (2012), the “government senior manager cohort consists largely of baby boomers setting the stage for conflict with the post-modernism orientation of the Generation X and Millennials that are replacing retiring employees” (p. 85).

Disengaged Employees Cost U. S. Companies up to $550 Billion a Year

As Traditionalists and Boomers move toward retirement there is a danger of them becoming disengaged. Other causes of disengaged employees are burned out, disenchantment with current management, and the lack of mentoring for upward mobility. Gallup (2013) estimates that the cost of disengaged employees for U. S. companies is $450 billion to $550 billion a year. Leaders and managers who focus on employee’s strengths have the ability to eliminate active disengagement (Gallup, 2013). Administrators will need to evaluate their current workforce and make considerations to ensure that there is adequate representation in their staffing. This should include looking at upcoming retirements and promotions. Due to the many Boomers that will be retiring in the next five to ten years, it is important to prepare for the loss of institutional knowledge and experience. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (2015) projects that “between 2014 and 2024, 36.4 million workers will enter the labor force and 28.6 million will leave” (p. 24). It is important the leadership embraces generational differences so that there will not be a significant talent and performance deficit (Green & Roberts, 2012). Those in leadership should be able to lead and manage the diverse workforce and adapt to the changes that are inevitable. Leaders need to recognize the diversity in the workplace and use it as a source of strength, not division (Gallup, 2013).

Implementing Mentor Programs, Generational Diversity Training, and Enhanced Communication Methodologies

It is always ideal to be an early adopter versus a lager when it pertains to change. It is not enough to just go with the flow but leaders must be able to identify needs for the future. Unfortunately, the transition for those in leadership has been limited in the public and private sectors. Management should consider using mentor programs, generational diversity training, and enhanced communication methods that are intended to accommodate to each of the generation’s preferences, which will foster productivity that supports their work environment (Kapoor & Solomon, 2011). Leadership training and mentoring programs will be essential in the next ten years, in the public and private sectors.

Engaging the Millennial Generation

There is a misconception that Millennials are over-sensitive, lazy and uncommitted. Instead, I will show how they are passionate, hard workers and are dedicated to social causes. Sessa, Kabacoff, Deal, and Brown’s, (2007) study set out to separate the myth from reality and how the generational differences affect problem-solving in the workplace (p. 48). Millennials make learning a priority and find happiness in their families (Sessa, Kabacoff, Deal, & Brown, 2007) While Millennials may not be as independent as GenXers, they are full of confidence and sensitive (Kapoor & Solomon, 2011). Leuenberger and Klüver found that the younger generations desire more frequent feedback than what is provided in annual evaluations (as cited in Green & Roberts, 2012, p. 90). Executive leaders through mentoring managers should select senior employees who are trained to provide the desired feedback (Green & Roberts, 2012).