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Changing Attitudes

The “baby boom” that began at the end of World War II in 1945 and lasted until the early 1960s generated an enormous number of new employees in the 1970s and 1980s. Interestingly, many companies saw the baby boomers as detrimental to productivity. To be sure, the youthful boomers lacked the experience of mature workers. But they were also the victims of stereotypes. Companies believed that these young people, born in the heady days of the postwar economy, would be less willing to work their way up from the bottom, as their parents had done. The younger workers would probably be spoiled and arrogant, and, consequently, less productive.

At the same time, rapid advances in technology meant that workers needed to be able to adapt to new ways of doing their jobs. Many companies that had prided themselves on a policy of “lifetime employment” began to see their longtime workforce as a drain on productivity. The reasoning had less to do with any belief that older workers would be unable to master new skills than it did with the fear that the older workers had grown complacent in their jobs. Moreover, older workers commanded the highest salaries and were the most likely to incur high health care costs. As the number of baby boomers in the market increased, companies began to shift their commitment from experience to a younger, less expensive workforce that could be trained (and whose jobs were made easier by technology).

Inside Changing Attitudes