MuseumLand Baby Boomers: The Need to Adapt

multi-generational-fig-2This is a check-in for all the Baby Boomers out there in MuseumLand. Because I am a Boomer, as is Anne Ackerson, we’re well positioned to comment on our demographic. Since we began this blog three years ago, we’ve encountered frustration, anger, and snarkiness about Boomers. Principle among characteristics attributed to Boomers is their overwhelming failure to retire. They are also characterized as the folks fond of commenting about why change can’t happen because they’ve already lived through or tried every variation of a project their younger colleagues might propose. And, sadly, they are sometimes regrettably ignorant about the world of the “Interweb.” All of this might be and probably is true. At least in certain instances at certain museums.

But here’s a thought. If you’re a Millennial, Gen-Xer, or post-Millennial, remember age comes to all of us. You may think at 25 or 37, you’ll never be the story-telling, dithering, social media ignoramus, who drives you insane in staff meetings. And we hope you won’t. But begin by practicing some forbearance. To put it bluntly: cut everyone some slack and presume they are trying their best. And listen. Really listen. You may learn something. Of course you may be bored to tears, but we’re being optimistic. And in the meantime, listening and mild forgiveness are good workplace skills to cultivate.

And if you’re a Boomer who plans on a late retirement, for goodness sakes, get up every morning and look forward to learning something new. Challenge yourself. Reinvent yourself. You will be a better more interesting person. And show some humility. Age doesn’t always confer wisdom about everything. Get yourself a mentor who is not in your age demographic. Partner with your younger colleagues. Be respectful. Just because a colleague looks like one of your college-age nephews does not mean he doesn’t bring a bucketful of experience and knowledge to the table. Be ready to experiment. And bite your tongue when you want to say that something won’t work. Look at what’s being proposed and ask questions. Let yourself be persuaded. Save what you know for the project evaluation.

It’s easy to reduce a whole demographic to negative stereotypes, and that’s not the point of this post. But Boomers are us. And there are many of us who are (still) smart, imaginative, contributing members of the museum world. Yes, there are a lot of us planning to work beyond traditional retirement age. In some cases that may be because too many MuseumLand salaries are dismal. And a dismal wage even after a lengthy career doesn’t add up to comfort in the golden years.

In some cases people want to work. And honestly, why shouldn’t they? Diversity in the 21st-century is code for race, but it’s actually so much more than that. In a perfect world, it’s all of us at the table. That may sound a bit too Kumbaya for some, and we are the first to admit that getting to the table means negotiating numerous museum land mines from access to graduate school to breaking through glass ceilings and floors, but that doesn’t mean we don’t all belong. Here are five suggestions for a better Boomer/Millennial workplace.

  1. If you’re a Boomer, and you’re asked, however impolitely, about why you’re still working, be transparent: You love what you do and you’re not ready to imagine life without it; you still have a contribution to make; you have children to launch and college educations to pay for.
  2. Encourage succession planning. Succession at every leadership level opens doors to Millennials and Post-Millennials.
  3. Whatever demographic you’re in, be open to working, mentoring, and partnering across generations.
  4. Seek ways to reinvent yourself at home and at work. Do something new.
  5. Burnout can happen to anyone. Know when you’re burnt out. If your A-game is mediocrity, move on.

Joan Baldwin

Image: “The Garbageman’s Guide” 

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3 Comments on “MuseumLand Baby Boomers: The Need to Adapt”

  1. Evelyn Fidler says:

    Thanks Joan! I am a generation Jones (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Generation_Jones) or Gen X depending on what system you use, I was born two years too late to be a boomer. I am even getting the question “when will you retire”. I listen to other generations as all have something to contribute but especially love what you said that diversity is not just about race, sex etc it is also about age.

  2. David says:

    As a Boomer, there were a number of jobs in wanted but the folks wouldn’t retire. That’s nothing new.

  3. Nice article! I’m definitely a Millennial working (hard!) in a museum, and I have to say I have had nothing but positive experiences working with Boomers. I recognize the friction of different perspectives, but I don’t think it’s a bad thing; it’s beneficial for a team to have different perspectives. I’ve also been very privileged to work with Boomers who never look down their noses at me because of my age or relative inexperience, and in fact have had great collaborative experiences as they asked me to help with social media and computer-based tasks. Working together is doable, and very rewarding!


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