Boomers: The New Independent Workers


“The Boomer” is a column written for adults nearing retirement age and those already in their “golden years.” It will also promote reader interaction by posting e-mail responses and answering reader questions. E-mail your questions or topic ideas to

We’ve all dreamed of being our own boss: calling all the shots, having no one to report to and creating your own hours and work schedule.

During my time in the workforce, I ran my own business twice: in the 1970s I owned a Dunkin’ Donuts franchise and operated it for seven years. After I sold it, I took the profit and embarked on a fairly new business concept at the time: tanning salons. I opened one of the very first tanning salons in New Jersey. At first business was booming, but soon the trend caught on, and tanning salons opened on just about every corner in the state and I knew it was time to move on. Now I am enjoying retired life and my independence.

A recent study points to boomers taking the wheel of entrepreneurship as the economy continues its recovery. The study, done by MBO Partners, shows that despite a tough economic climate, boomers are embracing the trend of a new independent work model. Nearly five million boomers are choosing to work on their own, and according to the survey, 70% are highly satisfied with their choice, and 84% expect to continue as independents over the next three years.

And it gets even better: According to the study, these independent boomers tend to be more satisfied and earn a higher income than their younger counterparts. But what else would one expect from the generation born of a "boom" and has continued to flourish ever since?

To discuss the study further, I spoke with Gene Zaino, CEO at MBO Partners. Here’s what he had to say:

Boomer: How would you define independent workers and what benefits did you find for baby boomers becoming independent?

Zaino: We define independent workers by those people who have chosen and conscientiously elected to select themselves as an independent worker.

Our study, The State of Independence in America conducted last August, was a landmark study about the size and the motivations of people working independently. We defined an independent worker as anyone over 21 years of age working at least 15 hours a week, at occupations like an independent consultant, a temporary agency, or as a business owners with less than five employees.

We identified 16 million independent workers in the U.S. that fit under this definition, with about five million or about 30% being boomers. We found that the flexibility and being able to do what they want along with adding value and impact in the world were the top factors that led people to become independent workers.

Boomer: What challenges does independent work bring to the baby boomer generation?

Zaino: The same top challenge plagues bother boomer and every other independent worker: the stress and burden of being your own boss.

Finding your work, staying compliant with labor and tax laws, and managing your own finances and business operations is tough.

Tools and technological advances make it easier to perform some of these tasks, and online communities also offer forums and communities of like-minded people to chat and swap ideas. Social networks also make it easier for individual independent workers to find projects, as well as find people to facilitate the projects.

With all of these tools and services it has gotten a lot easier, but it still is a challenge, and independent work is not for everyone. Boomers who feel they have got the capability, motivation and the skills to go out there and leverage their relationships and their networks and take on the responsibility to take on what it means to be in business for themselves will do just fine.

Boomer: With the recent financial uncertainty and tumultuous job market, is this the right time for boomers to venture out of the “traditional" job market?

Zaino: Absolutely yes. People are learning more and more that the traditional job market is not what it used to be—there is no safety net. In fact, the traditional labor market offers a false sense of security because at any point of time—whether it’s a change in the global market, new business models, or a company  having to quickly downsize—you could lose your job.

I believe the sooner that anybody can learn the skills and put the process in place to create a streamline of opportunities so that you can take control of your career and become an independent worker the better. Being an independent worker allows for multiple sources of income, and playing a larger role in your success and becoming more involved with communities and social networks.

The sooner you can escape from the traditional employment relationship, the better. But this transition does require a change in behavior, learning new skills and some attitude change, but once you have that in place, you open yourself up to multiple streams of income and economic stability and flexibility.

Boomer: What do you see as the future for independent boomers?

Zaino: We see boomers growing into one of the largest segments of the independent workforce. And our research supports that: We have five million boomers today that are performing independent work, and eight million more planning to get into this work style within the next two years.

More boomers will be turning to this work because they have built a lot of equity in their intellectual capabilities. They have institutional knowledge and relationships that they could leverage. They know people, they have people that trust them that know the quality of work that they can do. It is easier today for people to go off and launch this independent type of consulting business without a lot of capital. When you look at all of these factors and you look at the typical baby boom personality, which is ‘I am going to go out and get what I want anyway’, they will make strong independent workers. They want to do what they want to do and don't want to be stuck in a bureaucratic environment.

I don't believe retirement even exists anymore, I believe it is just another stage of your life and career. Even if you are financially independent, you still need to be doing things to keep your mind active.