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Editor's Note

Boomers. Let's Talk

01.01.13 by Mary Grayson

Beyond the sheer size of the aging baby boomer generation, there is no consensus on its impact on society.



The only point that people agree about the much mulled-over baby boomers is that there are a lot of us. The Greatest Generation came home from WW II, unpacked and began spawning the Biggest Generation. Entire community infrastructures, such as housing and schools, were built just to accommodate the swelling boomer population wave. But beyond sheer size, there's no consensus on our impact on society.

Depending on your own personal bias or whatever social or anti-social guru you agree with, the boomer generation is: self-obsessed, self-aggrandizing, and self-seeking. (OK, for heaven's sake! We don't deny being the Me Generation.) Some would add that we're also spoiled rotten, greedy, competitive moochers sitting on all the high-paying jobs, and it's time to move on.

Others with more lofty vocabularies — probably boomers themselves — point out that they both fought in and ended a controversial war, ushered in a new era of cultural values, tolerance and egalitarianism, and stood up loudly for social justice.

These may ring like meaningless high-minded phrases but the social context of the 1960s United States was much different from today. All of these grandiose, abstract words were rooted in very real-world, highly charged conflicts.

One example: "Mad Men" isn't just a good TV show with great props. It's a dead-on portrayal of the social fabric of that era. Looking back from the safety of some 50 years, today, younger people see it as simply fiction and that people really didn't behave like that. But ask any woman who worked then — including in health care — and you will hear a string of personal stories that follow that plot line and more.

Today, obviously, the senior leadership and governance of hospitals is in the hands of boomer executives and trustees. It's somewhat amusing that someone with our unconventional past and who warned never to trust anyone over 40 would be impatient and disparaging of younger generations in the workplace because they have different values and priorities. New mantra: Don't trust anyone under 40?

With four generations in the same workforce, it's not always vive la difference out there on the front lines. But most boards and CEOs agree that corporate culture and talent management are key success markers in our brave new future. If the traditional rewards and incentive programs just don't work, then it's time to gain insight and figure out what will.

So, since we're reflecting about our generation, let's revert to self-obsession for a moment. We're good at that. Clearly, waves of retirement in leadership and C-suite positions are coming soon, which may leave an experience gap at a critical time that, as responsible stewards, we need to manage. And succession planning is not one of our strong points.

One more thought. What will be your legacy? The answer can help clarify your thinking. It is what you will be known for in the future and with future generations. I've got a great suggestion: Hand over to the next generation of employees and patients a safe, efficient, equitable health care system that has finally been set right. That's a great second act that everyone will respect and applaud. — Let me know what you think. You can reach me at mgrayson@healthforum.com

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The opinions expressed by authors do not necessarily reflect the policy of Health Forum Inc. or the American Hospital Association