Magazine Feature / People

Business professor offers hope, advice for transitioning baby boomers

During times of life transition, baby boomers should focus on enhancing their skills and celebrating existing strengths, says Karen Newman, a Daniels College of Business management professor.

For many boomers, the economic conditions facing the country are necessitating a return to the job market or a postponement of retirement plans. Rather than despair, Newman says, boomers should have hope and see this time as an opportunity for self improvement.

“This will pass, and at this time next year, we will be having a very different conversation,” Newman advises. “For people looking at postponing their retirement, they should hang in there, take time to brush up on their skills and do a personal inventory of strengths and weaknesses. As soon as the initial shock of the need for change passes, they will be better able to deal with it.”

However, some boomers postponing retirement or re-entering the workforce may face a challenge to convince employers of their continued value.

“Boomers command higher salaries, and their health care costs more,” says Newman.  “But the loyalty and reliability that they offer employers more than compensates for their expense.”

Newman recommends boomers facing career-related challenges invest in themselves and their own capabilities.

“Do an inventory, and decide what you are good at,” Newman says.  “Don’t be shy about telling people what you can do — not what you can’t or won’t do.”

She also recommends boomers make sure they are up to date on the latest knowledge and software in their fields.

“You’ve got to learn how to Twitter and get on social networking sites such as LinkedIn. Don’t be afraid of change” she recommends. “Get the dust off.”

There are 76 million baby boomers in the country, Newman says, and there is strength in that number even in a down economy.

“We have been social change agents since day we were born,” she says.  “As a result, we collectively are accustomed to reforming this country to cope with us, and to benefit from us.”

Karen Dowd, executive director of the Suitts Center for Career Services at the Daniels College of Business, agrees.

“I do believe the boomers are going to once again lead the way. They are the first generation to have the luxury of extending their career lives indefinitely and our notions of the “right” age to retire just got more nebulous — courtesy of the recent economic meltdown,” Dowd says.

Along with career consultant Caela Farren, Newman has coauthored a book about life transitions of all sorts. While targeted to boomers, the as-yet unnamed book offers tips to anyone who is facing transition such as retiring, re-entering the workforce, changing careers or marital status, relocating, increasing community involvement or starting a new hobby.

“Different life spheres are connected,” Newman says. “Change in one usually implies change in others. A change in career may have implications for family, community and volunteer activities.”

Newman and Farren guide readers through a self-discovery process beginning with identifying needs and values in multiple areas of life then moving on to interests, talents, and sense of purpose. They argue that engagement in different life spheres should include a sense of renewal and sustainability over time.

“Rather than building walls among different life spheres,” says Newman, “we argue that we need to integrate our activities across life spheres more fully.

“Our book doesn’t give you a road map. It gives you the landscape, and then you decide how you want to move through it, and you make the choices.”

The book grew out of research Newman conducted for the Rose Community Foundation and a grant she received to study ways to match boomers with employers.

Newman and Farren are currently working with a publisher. They also plan to offer a companion Web site and a subscription-based social networking and coaching site.

“Boomers shouldn’t look at where they wish they were, but instead figure out how to be happy going forward, perhaps doing something they didn’t think they would do,” says Newman.

“It’s not a dismal situation at all,” she adds, “especially if boomers can find a way to use their talents to contribute to someone else’s well being.”

Comments are closed.