Research Findings: Boomers Want Integrity in Work and Life
By Neal Weinberg | 6 min read
Grizzled Baby Boomers (born between 1946 and 1964) are less passionate about global issues than younger generations and more pragmatic when it comes to buying decisions. They are, however, also more demanding that business leaders behave responsibly.
By far, healthcare is the most important issue for people in their mid-50s and up, as cited by 63% of the nearly 4,000 Boomers who answered SAP’s January 2020 online survey of 10,000 U.S. and Canadian consumers. Climate change was the second biggest issue for Boomers, followed by poverty and hunger.
Those are some of the top-line results of the survey, which sought to understand how different generational groups view the significance of global issues; how individuals respond emotionally to leadership decisions; and how business characteristics affect individuals’ decisions to buy from, work for, and respect companies.
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The research provides a window into the sentiments of four generations – Boomers, Gen Xers, Millennials, and Gen Zers – at a time when people are evaluating the behaviors of companies and their leaders. To discern respondents’ levels of emotional intensity, individuals were presented with 17 global issues, such as climate change, education, and work-life balance, and were asked to attach an emotional rating to each one, choosing from 12 different emotions, such as admiration, disgust, and enthusiasm. (Response choices were equally balanced between positive and negative emotions). Using their responses, we generated a standardized Emotional Index to capture the strength of participants’ emotions across all areas.
The results clarify that for companies looking to tap into the immense buying power of the 71 million U.S. Boomers, a one-size-fits-all strategy that also appeals to Gen Xers, Millennials, and Gen Zers won’t work. Boomers are different and require an approach tailored to their unique requirements.
Top-of-mind for Boomers: Healthcare and the planet’s future
It’s no surprise that aging Boomers have more concerns about healthcare than the other groups. But Boomers also worry about what kind of planet they’re handing down to their grandchildren.
Boomers care significantly more about a cluster of environmental issues than the other groups. For example, Boomers listed climate change as their number two issue at 46.9%, compared with 37.8% for Millennials and 36.3% for Gen Xers. Boomers also said they were more concerned about recycling (31.4% vs. 18.2% for Gen Zers), clean water (25.6% Boomers vs. 18.7% Millennials), and biodiversity (15.2% vs. 13.1% for Gen Xers).
On the flip side, Boomers care less about mental health issues, work-life balance, education, income inequality, and sexual harassment (see Figure 1).
The takeaway: To resonate with Boomers in general, digital business leaders should seek opportunities to focus on issues tied to wellness – of the body and the planet.
Boomers primarily focus on the state of healthcare access. We see the same pattern of Boomers standing apart from the other generations when it comes to a slew of environmental issues.
Boomers as buyers: Focused on the here and now
For Boomers, the top three buying criteria are old-school – product quality, features, and price. Compared with the other generations, Boomers are also more likely to do business with a company where leaders demonstrate ethical behavior and engender personal trust.
Baby Boomers don’t expect companies to solve all the world’s problems – a company’s ability to make a difference in the world has less influence on their buying behavior than it does with the other groups. But they do expect business leaders to demonstrate personal integrity. Boomers also demand ethical behavior from business leaders (74% vs. 68% for the other groups).
The top three buying criteria for Boomers are traditional metrics like quality of the product or service (94% vs. 77% for Gen Zers), features and performance (93% vs. 74% for Gen Zers), and price (92% vs. 77% for Gen Zers).
Boomers are far less interested in buying considerations that might seem frivolous to them, like celebrity endorsements, online reviews, aesthetics, and the quality of the company’s partner ecosystem (see Figure 2).
The takeaway: Unlike the other groups, Boomers demonstrate that traditional buying factors (price, quality, features, buying experience) still reign supreme in their minds. To win their business, companies must focus on these bedrock issues. But that’s not all – Boomers expect companies to behave ethically, so business leaders need to show integrity in their decisions and actions.
Boomers and the workplace: Show us substance
The Boomer age group is 56 to 74. Many are retired and many others are approaching retirement. But, generally speaking, when asked how important it is to work for a company that makes a difference in the world and improves people’s lives, their responses were in sync with those of the other groups.
Baby Boomers care little about celebrity endorsements and online reviews, but they place an elevated importance on positive work experience (90%), product quality (89%), pay (88%), product features and performance (86%), and personal trust in leaders (85%).
They also care more than the younger age groups about things like business leaders’ authenticity, their ability to effect change, and their ethical behavior, as well as organizational transparency and openness to new ideas. But those criteria fall into a second tier, behind the more practical aspects of a job – how you’re treated, how well you’re paid, and how much you respect the product and the leadership team.
The takeaway: For Boomers deciding where to work, it’s about more than the pay or whether you can work from home. Boomers are the polar opposite of gig economy workers who view a job as something to tide them over for a while. Leaders should recognize that Boomers are different from the other groups. They’re looking for a company they can be proud to work for, that produces quality products, and has leaders they can personally trust. They also want to work for a company that offers great healthcare.
When asked to define the qualities that engender respect, Boomer responses mirrored their views on buying and workplace decisions. They place the greatest importance on product quality, features, performance, and price. And they differ from the other generations in placing greater importance on business leaders’ ethical behavior, organizational actions that benefit the community, and ability to effect change, as well as their level of personal trust in leaders.
Less passion? Yes. But Boomers care deeply about the big picture
Along with identifying the issues Boomers and other generational groups care about, we also measured their level of passion about these issues. We identified a group we call “Passionates.” This subgroup is most likely to have intense feelings about global issues and to link those feelings to buying and employment decisions based on the company’s commitment to these issues. Emotional ratings included terms like admiration and disgust and contained 12 choices balanced equally between positive and negative sentiments.
While Boomers may not be as passionate as younger generations, they still care deeply about society and the environment.
Overall, the Passionates make up 20% of total respondents, though the respondents who fit this profile tend to skew younger than the Boomers. Only 14.2% of Boomers were Passionates. (In contrast, 31.6% of Gen Zers were Passionates). At the other end of the sentiment spectrum, Boomers showed more dispassion than other groups – 23% vs. 18.2%.
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While Boomers may not be as passionate as younger generations, they still care deeply about a wide range of societal and environmental issues. And they differ from the younger generations in their view of government. To a greater extent, Boomers believe that governments should be a leading force in effecting global change.
For organizations in fields like healthcare, insurance, retail, financial planning, personal services, and travel and entertainment, Boomers want you to stick to your knitting. They’re not looking for slick marketing campaigns featuring celebrities, fancy packaging, or hyped-up online reviews.
They want solid value, a great buying experience, and top-notch customer service from a company that demonstrates ethical behavior and whose leaders are trustworthy.
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