The Great Generational Shift: The Post-Boomer Workforce of 2020

March 23, 2016 | 4661 Views

The Great Generational Shift: The Post-Boomer Workforce of 2020

Bruce Tulgan

Founder and CEO | RainmakerThinking, Inc.

There is a “Great Generational Shift” underway in the workforce today. This is the post-Baby Boomer shift that demographers and workforce planners have been anticipating for decades. It is not only a generational shift in the numbers in the workforce, but an epic turning point. This is the final stage of a historic period of profound change globally and a corresponding transformation in the very fundamentals of the employer-employee relationship. The generational shift presents a whole new set of challenges for employers, employees, and for managers at all levels. 

While there are always different people of different generations working side by side in the workplace, today there are as many as six different generations, depending on which demographic definitions one uses. The workforce is aging on one end of the spectrum and getting younger on the other. In the middle there is a gap, with the prime age workforce shrinking as an overall percentage of the workforce.

Generations in the workplace in 2016.  The oldest, most experienced people in the workplace, “pre-Boomers,” those born before the post-WWII “Baby Boom” began in 1946, are still greater than 1% of the workforce.  The Baby Boomers (born 1946-64) are 30%, Generation Xers (born 1965-77) are 27%, and The Millennial Generation is 42%. 

Because both the Baby Boomers and the Millennials are such large generations with such long birth-year time spans by the broadest definitions, we have found it useful to split them each into first-wave and second-wave cohorts: 

The great generational shift

The age bubble. On the older end of the generational spectrum, the workforce is aging, just as the overall population is aging. The exodus of the first-wave Boomers from the workplace – postponed for several years by the economic crisis that began in 2008 – is now swift and steady. By 2020 Boomers will be less than 20% of the Western workforce; older Boomers (born before 1955) will be less than 6%.  

The youth bubble. At the same time, the fastest growing segment of the workforce is made up of those born 1990 and later, so there is a growing youth bubble on the younger end of the spectrum. The youth bubble is growing even faster in “younger population” regions of the world.  By 2020, second-wave Millennials (those born 1990-2000) will be greater than 20% of the Western workforce and another 4 – 5% will be made up of post-Millennials born after the year 2000. 

Powerful Forces of History: An Era of Uncertainty and Change

The “Generational Shift” is no ordinary generation gap in the workplace. Because this is an era of profound historical changes, generational difference today is not only an important diversity issue, but also a powerful lens through which to understand the changing workforce. We should not expect the new Millennial workforce to eventually “grow up and settle down” and start thinking and behaving more like those of previous generations. Rather, the “grown-ups” will find themselves thinking and behaving more and more like the Millennials.  That’s because the second-wave Millennials have been shaped by the same historical forces of change driving the fundamental transformation of life and work for us all. The great “Generational Shift” is an epic turning point driven by profound historical trends that have been unfolding in plain sight for at least two decades: 

Globalization. We are all now capable of connecting and traveling to work across borders in every direction and combination. 

Technology. The pace of technological advance today is unprecedented. In every aspect of life, anything can become obsolete at any time – possibilities appear and disappear swiftly, radically, and often without warning. 

Institutional insecurity.  Ours is a world threatened by terrorism and environmental cataclysm, one in which the economy fluctuates wildly from boom to bust; governments sometimes shut down or run out of money; and great companies conquer or fail or merge or continually downsize, restructure, and reengineer. 

The information environment. Ours is an information environment defined by wireless internet ubiquity, wholesale technology integration, infinite content, and immediacy. We have infinite access to information and ideas and perspectives – unlimited words, images, and sounds. 

Human diversity. In every dimension, the world is becoming more diverse and more integrated. Each generation is more diverse than the last. Every single individual, with his/her own combination of background, traits, and characteristics, is his or her own unique diversity story. 

Virtual reality. We are all plugged in to an endless stream of content and in continuous dialogue – through social media-based chatting and sharing and gaming – forever mixing and matching and manipulating from an infinite array of sources to create and then project back out into the world our own ever-changing personal montage of information, knowledge, meaning, and selfhood.



Bruce Tulgan was one of the keynote speakers at the CHART conference in Seattle. He is an adviser to business leaders all over the world and a sought-after keynote speaker and seminar leader. He is the founder and CEO of RainmakerThinking, Inc., a management research and training firm, as well as RainmakerThinking.Training, an online training company. Bruce is the best-selling author of numerous books including Not Everyone Gets a Trophy (Revised & Updated, 2016), Bridging the Soft Skills Gap (2015), The 27 Challenges Managers Face (2014), , and It’s Okay to be the Boss (2007). He has written for the New York Times, the Harvard Business Review, HR Magazine, Training Magazine, and the Huffington Post. Bruce can be reached by e-mail at, you can follow him on Twitter @BruceTulgan, or visit his website

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