Practice Development Counsel

Phyllis weiss haserot
Phyllis weiss haserot

President & Founder

212 593-1549

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Baby Boomers’ “Flexibility Paradox”

Baby Boomers cite flexibility as one of their highest needs and wants, yet they make it hard for Generations X and Y, who are more vocal about their desire for it, to gain flexibility in their work/life...

Surveys in the last five years have revealed that Boomers' number one concern is flexibility – work/life balance for themselves after years of a work-centric life. They have demands on them to juggle, in addition to their own responsibilities, children, care of elderly parents, and the flexibility demands of people who report to them. One major study of adults of all age categories by AARP, “Staying Ahead of the Curve” (September 2002), found that Baby Boomers, both male and female, want to work way past age 65 but on different terms than those of their earlier careers. They want more flexibility and autonomy. The juggling of work and personal responsibilities is pervasive and dominates decisions on work said 70% of Boomer respondents. They are the “sandwich generation,” caught between care for their children and their parents. What about time for themselves?

Because the population is more mobile than ever before, care for elderly parents may mean managing the care provided by paid care-givers many miles away and periodic trips requiring an absence from work. Those nearby need to fit in time for frequent visits and medical appointments while they still have children at home. And with demanding work and management responsibilities…well, you can imagine the stress and need for a break.

Yet the Boomers, who are still predominantly in charge as leaders of their firms, practice groups, business units, administrative departments and work teams are considered the roadblock to flexible work arrangements for the younger generations. Given the evidence above, presumably they can empathize. Yet as the decision-makers who need to approve anything non-traditional, they resist or struggle with requests from Generations X and Y for flexibility. What explains this paradox?

The Boomers with management responsibilities are in a hard place to be. They feel the pressure to balance everything and everyone in the workplace. Their positions and credibility are on the line, and few people really feel secure today. Fears persist around flexibility, whether flex-time, telecommuting, or flexible staffing. Sometimes there are trust issues that must be surfaced and dealt with.

There is a fear among many decision-makers that flexibility policies will result in no one around to produce the work at the level, volume and pace required. Most have no models to follow that assure the productivity they desire. The evidence shows that there has been no avalanche in firms that are progressive about flexibility. People on flexible schedules have more than held up their end. Turnover is reduced. So it is important to do the math – using all the relevant numbers, which include the cost of turnover.

Flexibility can even be used to improve ties between the generations. That may seem counter-intuitive, but the open discussions necessary to make flexible arrangements of all sorts work can lay a foundation for better productivity and collaboration for everyone.

I believe that to achieve good results the flexible policies need to be open to everyone – or at least everyone after the first year or two. That means senior partners and executives too. Each candidate for flexible work arrangements should be required to submit a business plan covering all aspects of their responsibilities, how they would be covered, and how they should be evaluated. Our experience facilitating dialogues with supervisors and work teams shows that these sensitively handled discussions can address questions, potential resentments and contingency plans. Everyone emerges clear on expectations. A lot of the emotional underpinnings are removed.


The model I use includes the following components:

* Open flexible arrangements to all, including senior people.
* Surface fears and past deterrents.
* Require business plans developed jointly with the candidate's work team(s).
* Conduct facilitated dialogues for clarity.
* Set expectations, devise metrics, evaluate and reward - results-based rewards.
* Communicate successes and share what has worked.

Contact me for a list of crucial discussion and dialogue questions at 212-593-1549 or

There is no doubt in my mind that somethin's gotta give. Baby Boomers need to resolve their “flexibility paradox,” a phrase I coined to explain a situation which neither makes anyone's frazzled life easier nor ultimately sustains an organization's strength. Adopt the model – my prescription toward avoiding resentment, allaying fears, raising morale, retaining talent and their sanity.

© Phyllis Weiss Haserot, 2006. All rights reserved.

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