Managing people

Who are baby boomers?

Born between 1946 and 1964, the oldest baby boomers in your workplace will be approaching their mid-70s. Baby boomers have had life experiences and expectations that are profoundly different from those of previous generations.

They are the first generation to face the new ‘third age’ with its unprecedented expectation of a decade or two of relatively healthy life after retirement. 

On one hand, boomers are often referred to as ‘empty nesters’ because their young adult children have left home. On the other hand, many have become our nation’s carers – financially, practically and emotionally. McCrindle research labels them the Sandwich Generation, (in fact the triple-decker sandwich) because this age range is ‘sandwiched’ between children, grandchildren, and their elderly dependent parents from the Silent Generation.

Many have reached, or are fast nearing retirement age, and will soon be leaving the workforce in high numbers. However, a large number are also expected to continue to work well into their sixties and are currently interested in changing, rather than ending, their careers. Knowing how to effectively lead baby boomers in your workplace will help you get the most out of this generation and truly utilise their skills and expertise.

Why are they called baby boomers?

With the end of World War II in 1945 Australia's servicemen and women returned and family life resumed after an interruption of almost six years of wartime conflict. Nine months later saw the start of a population revolution as childbirth rates soared – more than four million Australians were born between 1946-1961 – the ‘Baby Boom’.

Australians were confident the future would be one of comfort and prosperity. Corporations grew larger and more profitable, labour unions promised generous wages and benefits to their members, and consumer goods were more plentiful and affordable than ever before. The baby boom and the suburban boom went hand in hand.

What shaped the baby boomer generation?

Life was good and the baby boomers brought us the culture of narcissism. They were going to save the world and their music of the 60s and 70s expressed the spirit of the times. Popular mythology has the 1960s as all about free love, drugs and peace. In truth, young people’s culture did hijack the 60s and 70s.

Baby boomers grew up against a background of the Vietnam War and its protests, the dawn of space exploration and man walking on the moon, the assassination of President Kennedy and the introduction of the decimal currency.


The 50s saw the first vinyl LPs and rock and roll made a resounding debut. Australian bands began playing the new music and our artists were topping the charts. Blue jeans and t-shirts became fashionable with teenagers mimicking American movie stars like James Dean and Marlon Brando. The newspapers used the term 'juvenile delinquent' to describe young people for the first time.

The Beatles visited with sell-out shows and were frequently mobbed in Australia's cities. 

In 1964, The Seekers became the first Australian group to release a recording that reached one million sales. In the late 60s and early 70s the free-spirited youth believed they were going to save the world and their music expressed the spirit of the times.

The feminist movement

With a focus on equal pay for equal work, equal career and educational opportunities, feminist organisations and networks including the Women's Liberation Movement, established in 1969, and the Women's Electoral Lobby, established in 1972, made their voices heard in Parliament. Germaine Greer became a household name with their controversial book The Female Eunuch.

The 'Freedom Rides'

Politics was also changing. Busloads of protestors led by Aboriginal activist Charles Perkins rolled through NSW in 1963 exposing the discrimination against Aboriginal Australians who weren’t permitted to enter cinemas, pubs and public pools in rural areas. It forced the Liberal-National government into a referendum that changed the constitution to give Aboriginal people the vote.

People power and flower power

Young people in the late 60s turned on, tuned in, and dropped out. Life was all about finding peace and this saw the rise of the anti-war, hippie flower power children, sharing the love, living alternative lifestyles and bearing slogans of ‘Make Love Not War!’ They opposed the war in Vietnam with a series of moratorium marches that shut down metropolitan Melbourne in 1970.

‘It’s Time’

As the baby boomers reached voting age a charismatic Labor leader, Gough Whitlam was elected Prime Minister, under the slogan 'It's Time’. His campaign was directed at young people and had the very vocal support of young musicians and artists. This was the first change of government in 23 years, and it introduced a reform package that included free university education, withdrawing Australian troops from Vietnam, Legal Aid, and anti-discrimination laws for Aboriginal people.

Whitlam was dismissed by Australia's governor-general Sir John Kerr in 1975 and, for some Baby Boomers, this marked the end of their radical phase.

The workplace

The face of the workplace began evolving from a homogenous, paternalistic environment to one of increased racial and gender diversity. With more women entering the workforce terms such as ‘glass ceiling’ and ‘equal opportunity workplace’ were coined. Established authority systems were questioned and the status quo was challenged. Personality profiles were developed to build awareness of how to get along with all co-workers. The workplace gradually began to reflect the rapid political and social changes of the nation.

Baby boomers have had life experiences and expectations that are profoundly different from those of previous generations.

1980s and beyond: aging boomers

Through the 1980s, baby boomers tamed their radical, free spirit streak and settled down to enjoy the wealth and comfort of their middle age years.

Life expectancies have risen over the last few decades, and either by choice or necessity, boomers are staying in the workforce well past the traditional retirement age. They’re completely changing the image of retirement years as a time of leisure.

Baby boomer characteristics in the workplace 

Compared to other generations, baby boomers are known for a number of characteristics. While not every baby boomer will tick every box on this list, it can offer a general overview of what to expect from this age range. Baby boomers are:

  • hard-working and perceived as workaholics

  • loyal and committed to their employer and their role and responsibilities

  • confident, competitive, independent and self-reliant

  • motivated by position, perks, and prestige

  • have a wealth of skills, knowledge, and experience

  • define themselves by their professional accomplishments

  • critical of Gen Ys and Gen Xs who they feel lack correct work ethic and commitment to the workplace

  • believe in the value of the individual

  • achievement-oriented, resourceful, dedicated, and career-focused

  • welcome exciting, challenging projects and strive to make a difference

  • are quite competitive, equating work and position with self-worth

  • are great team players

  • believe in hierarchical structure and rankism

  • believe in ‘face time’ at the office and may have difficulty adjusting to newer workplace flexibility trends

  • are dedicated and loyal, and are willing to stay in the same job for a long time

  • prefer to communicate by phone or in person

  • are motivated by company-wide acknowledgement of their successes.

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