Feature

X, Y, BOOM! Generations at Work

Barbara Richter

Born  after World War II, Baby  Boomers are part of an enormous population bulge that, because of sheer numbers, had a significant social and economic impact from the outset. Between 1950 and 1951 enrolment in Ontario’s elementary schools jumped from 19,500 children to 42,000, then rose to 58,000 in 1952. As part of this big  crowd, Boomers learned to be competitive but also collaborative. They had to compete for attention and recognition.

Raised by parents who fought “a war for  freedom,”  Boomers  were  instilled with a sense of mission. They would get a good education, achieve more than their parents had, and make the world a better place. They grew up in the years marked by the Cold War, the space race, the civil rights movement, the anti-Vietnam war movement, women’s liberation, the Pill, the sexual revolution and the beginnings of  the environmental movement. They are the generation with a cause.

Boomers   also  experienced  rapid technological change: TVs with several channels, transistor radios, hi-fi and stereo, touch-tone phones, and movies in Technicolor, 3-D and Cinemascope. At work there were hand calculators, photocopiers  and  mainframe  computers. They were the first generation to be constantly exposed to mass advertising.

Boomers grew up in a society that was relatively affluent and rich in opportunity. They were optimistic;  believing  that  all  problems  could and should be solved, they created the self-help industry.

The term  workaholic belongs to them. Work is a source of personal fulfilment and a measure of their self-worth. Putting in extra hours is a sign of  success. Their friends tend to be colleagues from work. For many the decision to retire will be difficult because they fear the accompanying isolation and loss of identity.

Boomers started teaching in the late 1960s, a time of great change in Ontario’s education system.  County-wide  school  boards  were  created, and new schools built. Women won the right to statutory pregnancy leave and the right to wear pantsuits  to  school.  Teachers  walked  off  their jobs for a day in December 1973 to protest unfair bargaining legislation and eventually won the right to bargain collectively and to strike. Collective agreements became legally binding contracts that outlined rights, benefits and working conditions.

Boomers, with their sense of mission and commitment to a cause, believe their efforts to improve teachers’ working lives made the world a better place. They are very sensitive to scepticism about or criticism of these achievements.

Gen Xers