Don't put Baby (Boomers) in the Corner


Organisations are failing to realise the potential of over 50s at work, with HR focusing on retirement planning rather than helping older workers use their skills and expertise for the benefit of the business.

Added on 20 November 2015 by Erika Lucas

Baby boomers

Baby Boomers – many of whom have up to another 20 years left to work – are effectively being shoved in the corner and are becoming frustrated and demotivated by not being able to develop their careers, contribute to business growth and pass their valuable knowledge and insights onto younger workers.These are some of the key messages to emerge from a new Ashridge research report ‘Don’t put Baby (Boomers) in the Corner: Realising the potential of the Over 50s at work,’ which is part of a series looking at the challenges and opportunities presented by today’s inter-generational workforce.

The skills and contributions of older workers play an important part in the country’s economy. An ageing workforce, coupled with abolition of the default retirement age, means older workers need to work longer (to support living longer) and also in many cases actively want to work longer. The 50-plus age group already accounts for around 30 per cent of total employment in the UK and by 2020 will represent one third of the working age population.

Maximising the potential of these ‘Baby Boomers’ is clearly vital for organisations who want to thrive and grow, but the research suggests that there is a real mismatch between what over 50s want from work and the way they are portrayed, managed and valued within the business.

An Ashridge survey of 2,000 plus over 50s, as well as HR staff working in organisations that employs over 50s, showed that older workers are mainly driven by intrinsic factors such as interesting work, a sense of achievement, pride and being able to leave a legacy. They are still ambitious, want challenging jobs and are hungry for continued growth and development.

The survey also overturns the commonly held misconception that Baby Boomers are ‘hanging onto’ senior roles and blocking the next generation of talent coming through.

The findings show that in fact many Baby Boomers are keen to step out of their operational roles and to find new and different ways of putting the strategic and relationship skills they have developed over the years to good use.

In contrast, the survey found that the focus of HR professionals - and indeed of managers across the wider business - was on developing younger generations to fulfil their potential. Although training in areas such as IT skills and coaching and mentoring was considered important for older workers, development tended to be centred more around retirement and financial planning and little effort was being made to find ways for them to share their knowledge and experience.

“The findings are a real wake-up call for organisations to think about how valued their older workers feel and are portrayed, both in and outside the business,” said Research Fellow Dr Carina Paine-Schofield, who co-authored the report together with Ashridge associate Sue Honoré . “Baby boomers are often in senior positions and are role models for others in the business. If they are not stimulated and engaged at work, the knock-on effect on the motivation levels of others could be enormous. Organisations also need to think about how the way they perceive and manage older workers impacts on recruitment and their brand image as an employer.”

The report suggests a number of practical actions organisations could take to help over 50s maximise their contribution and continue to thrive at work:

  • Explore opportunities for older workers to utilise their strategic, leadership and interpersonal skills through advisory roles, non-executive director opportunities, and special projects.
  • Develop informal and individual dialogue with Baby Boomers about their skills, aspirations and future as opposed to formal, standardised, ‘retirement planning’ conversations.
  • Explore ways to help Baby Boomers share their knowledge and expertise – through initiatives such as coaching, mentoring, job shadowing and networking.
  • Offer a wider range of training and development to over 50s, to support their desire to develop their careers and move into new and different roles.

“Baby boomers are in danger of becoming something of a ‘lost generation’,” says Dr Paine-Schofield. “Organisations need to take the opportunity to find new ways to keep older workers engaged, help them remain in fulfilling employment and utilise their skills for the benefit of the business.”

To request a copy of the report, please contact:

Take part in the next stage of this research: What is important to you in your working life? What is important to your organisation, your colleagues? Tell us! This research project is divided into two phases. Phase 1, documented in this report, provides quantitative data via an online survey. Phase 2 will provide supplementary qualitative data with a focus on in-depth interviews and focus groups of the over 50s at work, as well as with HR staff working in an organisation that employs over 50 year olds. Individuals and organisations that would like to participate in Phase 2 are encouraged to contact: and/or

To see copies of our previous reports visit