Millennials Aren’t The Only Ones Who Want Meaningful Work

Baby boomers can help the younger generations make a difference and vice versa.

Millennials Aren’t The Only Ones Who Want Meaningful Work
[Photo: Flickr user Ted Eytan]

From the first time I heard about the encore movement–baby boomers are foregoing a retirement of leisure in favor of putting their experience to good use through a second career focused on social impact–I was hooked.


The idea struck me as a no-brainer. On a global scale, we’re faced with an ever-increasing number of complex societal challenges in need of well-thought-out solutions. At the same time there is a huge swell of the population preparing to transition out of the workforce. For those with a strong desire to have a legacy impact for future generations, matching the two makes sense, particularly given that the economic downturn has resulted in many baby boomers needing to continue working longer than they’d originally anticipated.

But I also related deeply on a personal level, having recently quit my consumer insights job at Yahoo! to attend a graduate school focused on sustainability and how businesses can aid society. For the past five years I’ve been surrounded by people who are passionately launching new careers and working to influence social and environmental progress from within existing organizations or new ventures of their own.

Parallel movements across generations have been in existence for quite a while: More than 4.5 million people ages 50 to 70 are already in encore careers that combine personal meaning, continued income, and social impact, and 88% of millennials are seeking work with a greater purpose. It’s time for these two populations to join forces.

How Different Generations Can Help Each Other

Young people are often high on idealism, out-of-the-box thinking, and have the energy and tech-savvy skillset to build personal brands and get potentially transformative ideas to market quickly. But they sometimes lack the measured pragmatism and experience needed to successfully implement their plans and scale growth, struggling to grasp the broader system within which they’re operating.

Those who’ve amassed years of experience can be of enormous value to younger generations, but baby boomers often struggle staying up to speed with technology advancements and this can, unfortunately, negatively impact their confidence and, in turn, their willingness to speak up and be active contributors in the new economy. Sure, Angel Investors of tech startups are often older and more experienced than founders, but broader application of intergenerational collaboration is needed.

Marcos Salazar, founder of Be Social Change–one of the largest social impact communities in New York City–suggests a new kind of workshop where millennials help baby boomers build their personal brands and become more skilled at consistently articulating their value both in-person and online. His point is that it’s difficult for younger generations to partner with baby boomers unless they have a clear understanding of what specific strengths and experiences they bring to the table.


On the flip side, many of the social entrepreneurs connected to Salazar’s community have expressed a strong desire for increased mentorship and guidance. Leaders like social entrepreneur Marc Freedman, who founded encore movement nonprofit in 1997, should speak at the conferences and events where young social entrepreneurs and change makers are already gathering like GreenBiz and Social Good Summit.

Intergenerational Collaboration Today

Some collaboration between generations is already happening. For example,’s Purpose Prize winner David Campbell is a former tech executive and the founder of All Hands Volunteers, a nonprofit organization that has dispatched 28,000 volunteers–many of whom are millennials–to 45 global disaster zones.

Another example of intergenerational collaboration ,the Intergenerational Schools in Cleveland was launched by Dr. Peter and Catherine Whitehouse with a mission to connect, create, and guide a multigenerational community of lifelong learners and spirited citizens.

One of the challenges in bridging do-good movements and increasing intergenerational collaboration aimed at social change is semantics. While baby boomers may easily identify with having an “encore career,” that language may not resonate with younger generations who are likely to experience several career pivots throughout their professional lives.

Perhaps one solution is to integrate volunteer opportunities, nonprofit placement, further education, or social venture assistance into sabbatical packages, encouraging millennials to work at for-profit companies for longer periods of time while simultaneously respecting their hunger for variety and influencing social change.

Sarah McKinney is a writer, entrepreneur, and songwriter from Santa Monica, CA. She regularly profiles entrepreneurs and tells stories of personal and professional transformation. Follow her on Twitter @sarahmck.