The schism between baby boomers and millennials is hardly the most important of our nation’s current divides, but it is one of the most highly-cited. (If you think of phrase “avocado toast” as a slur, you know what we’re talking about.) Despite the generational differences, though, millennials are actually helping baby boomers work toward retirement—that’s according to Joseph Coughlin, founder and director of Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s AgeLab. “Soon the baby boomers may begin to reluctantly thank the millennials for ushering in a lifestyle … that will help enable quality living in retirement and older age tomorrow,” Coughlin writes in a Forbes op-ed.
First and foremost on Coughlin’s list of millennial preferences easing Baby Boomer retirement? Flexibility at work. “77% of millennials thought that flexibility is not just personally desirable but is key to making them more productive,” he writes.
But oftentimes, these millennials’ parents just don’t understand. “Baby boomers and Gen X employers are frequently amazed (and dismayed) by the demand of millennials for flexibility over better compensation,” Coughlin writes. “The desire for flexibility is now experiencing a generational convergence in the workplace. Most baby boomers did not demand nor experience flexibility at work in their youth.”
Now, however, baby boomers are following the younger generation’s lead and seeking out flexibility as they approach retirement, Coughlin says, and to great advantage. “For some older workers, the flexibility to go from full-time to part-time can provide a smooth transition into a phased retirement. Other boomers need flexibility in order to provide care for an elderly parent or loved one suffering from illness.”
Indeed, a recent Ashridge survey of 1,810 baby boomers—cited by HR magazine—showed flexibility was the second most desired change in the workplace, second only to a better work-life balance. Additionally, 39 percent of respondents said they wanted more agile working and less commuting hours.
“If you do talk about retirement options, it can be hugely beneficial to both parties,” one HR director told the magazine in light of that survey. “The older person may get the more flexibility they need, and the employer can still benefit from their knowledge and experience.”
ADPVoice contributor Jasmine Gordon concurs. “Providing flexible workplace arrangements, including part-time schedules and the opportunity to telecommute, to baby boomers who are delaying retirement can bridge the talent gap in a tight employment market,” she writes.
And it’s not just the baby boomers who are benefitting from millennials’ push for flexibility. Gen X, the generation in between, is, too. Just ask former Seventeen editor-in-chief Ann Shoket. “When young women demand freedom from facetime in the office, from endless meetings that go nowhere, from regular hours of 9 to 5 or 9 to 6 or 9 to 9, that’s getting us all closer to a conversation about how work and life can work together,” Shoket said in a recent TEDx video, as we previously reported. “They deserve everything, and so do we.”