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The Word 'Boomer' May Bring Bad Connotations at Work

Older workers may be viewed negatively if that term is used, a study finds

Don't Call them Boomers

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More than 300 management students participated in the study and were asked how they would react to a series of workplace scenarios.

What boomers are called in the workplace — specifically, whether they’re referred to as “baby boomers” or “older employees” – may influence whether they’re hired or fired. It may also determine whether others come to their defense if they’re discriminated against by younger workers.

Those were among the findings of a study by researchers at St. Mary’s University in San Antonio, Texas, published in December in the Journal of Applied Psychology.

In the study, lead author Cody B. Cox, an assistant professor of industrial organizational psychology, and colleagues at St. Mary’s questioned more than 300 management students at the school about how they would react in a series of workplace scenarios.

In one exercise, they were asked to evaluate an older job candidate for a position in information technology to test the stereotype that boomers aren’t as proficient with computers as younger counterparts. In another part of the experiment, they were asked to decide whether an older worker whose skills had become obsolete should be retrained or let go. In yet another scenario, they were asked to decide whether a younger employee should be disciplined for making an embarrassing joke at a boomer coworker’s expense.

In all of the scenarios, boomers described as "older employees" were viewed more positively — that is, they were more likely to be hired, retrained or defended against discrimination — than those who were described as “baby boomers,” the researchers found.

“Our results suggest that the use of generational labels like Baby Boomers should be discouraged due to the potentially negative effects,” the researchers concluded. Most people in the workplace are aware of legal protections for older workers, they said. But notions of generational differences — such as the idea that boomers are behind the curve on the latest technology — may lead younger people to treat boomers differently without even realizing it.

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