Entrepreneur out to plug coming “brain drain”

Tom Sawyer

Now that he’s hit 60, Tom Sawyer has begun contemplating retirement in earnest. The majority owner of a Grand Junction marketing and consulting firm, Sawyer looks forward to cutting back on his hours and eventually transferring management responsibilities to a successor.

Because of differences in the way members of younger generations view work and careers, though, Sawyer worries he might not be able to find that successor — at least not in the traditional way. “It’s going to be difficult to find people to step into roles like that.”

Sawyer considers his predicament at RSW Partners a microcosm of a much larger and unprecedented transition in the United States. By one estimate, 10,000 members of the baby boom generation turn 65 every day, an event that will continue for the next 19 years.

As baby boomers retire, their exodus will leave behind more than just open positions to fill, Sawyer said. If each baby boomer worked 40 years and 10,000 boomers retire every day, that equates to a collective loss of 40,000 years worth of experience from the work force each day, he said. “This, to me, is like a national-level crisis.”

There aren’t enough members of younger generations to fill the looming gap, Sawyer said. What’s more, many of them aren’t interested in management positions anyway.

While large corporations are preparing for the coming “brain drain,” Sawyer worries about small businesses that depend on one or two key owners or managers to sustain operations. What happens when they retire?

Sawyer believes he has one answer in a concept he’s developed he calls Boom_Ups. He’s testing the approach at RSW Partners, the very first Boom_Up business. But he’s also working in a consulting role with clients to help them with the transition. “This is a method that can be applied to a company to empower them with an ability to respond to the future.”

Members of the baby boom generation born between 1946 and 1964 generally have made work a priority as they’ve climbed corporate ladders as well as developed their own businesses, Sawyer says. As a group, they’ve got the mindset they’re willing to do whatever it takes to succeed.

Members of Generation X born between 1965 and 1978 are different, Sawyer says. So are members of Generation Y, or the Millenials, born after 1979.

Gen Xers don’t trust companies and remain skeptical of employer promises, bringing to the workplace what Sawyer describes as a “free agent” perspective. While work is important, Gen Xers also value their other interests and the flexibility to pursue them.

Millenials are dedicated to getting the work done, but also prefer flexible schedules and work environments that focus on the end product, not the process, Sawyer said. Millenials also want work that’s not only interesting, but also meaningful.

To better engage Gen Xers and Millenials, business owners and managers must reconsider the way work is done and who does that work, Sawyer says.

One change might involve what Sawyer calls “negotiated engagement” in which salaries and benefits vary with the level of work and responsibilities employees take on. Employees interested only in completing a certain amount of work would receive the minimal level of pay, while employees interested in taking on more responsibilities and developing into managers receive additional pay, he said. Computer technology and online connections make it easier for business owners and managers to offer more flexible hours and allow employees to work from home.

The key to offering employees more freedom is asking for more responsibility in return along with a mutual understanding of what and when work must be completed.

To add additional meaning to work, Sawyer encouraged businesses to look for opportunities to help the community, perhaps with pro bono services.

Some problems remain to be overcome, Sawyer said, particularly for businesses whose success depends on the long-term relationships owners and managers have established with customers.

As businesses find ways to better engage the Generation X and Millenial generations, Sawyer expects creativity and productivity to increase because employees are more happy with their jobs. And those employees who are more willing to take on added responsibilities ultimately will emerge as the next generation of business leaders, he said.

Sawyer said he’s excited about the potential for the Boom_Ups concept to help bridge gaps between generations in the workplace. “We both have a lot to learn from each other. And if we do that, we both win.”


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