Employers Need to Get a Grip on the Workplace of the Future

A funny thing has happened on the way to old age and retirement.  It just arrived a lot quicker for millions of 60 years and older workers than they ever anticipated … and they aren’t ready.

The problem isn’t that 60 year olds still don’t talk – and even dream – about retirement. But a combination of lack of financial preparedness and mental readiness is keeping a lot of seniors working longer.

A recent article in Fortune Magazine, obviously written by a much younger reporter, wasted no time in drawing a dramatic picture of the workforce of the future might look like.  She started the article with:

A man parks his bike and unbuckles his helmet to reveal baldness and salt-and-pepper eyebrows. A woman in orthopedic shoes makes her way into an office building, while another peers through her bifocal glasses at her smartphone, the font on the screen bumped up a few sizes for easier reading. No, this isn’t an ad for Celebrex. This is a glimpse at the workforce of tomorrow.

YIKES!  This isn’t the future – it’s now!  Worse, except for the bike and orthopedic shoes, it’s me! And I’m not alone. Currently 7.3 million American workers age 65 years and older are still working. (Fortunately I’ve got a few years before I’m included in that stat.) According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics that number will nearly double to 13.2 million by 2022 as again Americans defer retirement, or as many futurists more aptly predict, they will re-define retirement. (In my opinion, these BLS statistics are grossly underestimated, just as predictions of a mass exodus of Baby Boomers from the workforce won’t come to fruition.  Yes, Baby Boomers may leave a job or career they held for several decades, but then many if not most, will start another.)

Contrary to the inferences of the article, the generational gaps between young and old are not distinct.  It’s just as likely to see a young worker unbuckle his helmet and see a completely bald head as well as a “geezer” unleash a full head of hair, even a ponytail.  Likewise, young and old workers now use smartphones, although it’s a foregone conclusion that most older workers can’t see a bleeping thing without those bifocals or large fonts.  And in a digital typing race – or more accurately a keystroking competition – young workers will win hands down.

But regardless of how the similarities and differences between older and younger workers is portrayed, what the workplace looks like going forward will be undeniably different. Certainly a lot more gray hairs, bifiocals, and pictures of grandkids will be visible along with tube tops, flip flips, body piercings, and tattoos. Age spans of 40 and even 50 years will be common.  This generational shift  and age divide inherently will require every organization to address everything from healthcare benefits to ergonomics.

The major workplace transformation however will be driven by technology and globalization – and working with those conditions requires new skill sets. The definition of work has changed … and will change again sooner than later. Even basic workplace issues like accommodation for the physically impaired or disabled won’t matter because many jobs can function remotely –from a worker’s home, his winter domicile, and even a rehab or assisted living!

In preparing for the workplace of 2020, the reason to employ either or both young and old should have nothing to do with age.  The critical criteria for hiring or retaining employees must be based on skills, experience, and knowledge. And in a world that changes so quickly and where change doesn’t always evolve as much revolve, age will become less of a reliable indicator of experience and knowledge.

Employers need to get a grip on reality and start planning for the future workplace.  For many companies seniors will be an asset. For others it is young workers that will provide the horsepower and fuel to grow business. For most organizations, the blended generational workplace will be the right recipe. But it will take a lot more creativity to make it work than just saying “we hire regardless of age.”

(Special thanks to blogger Brenda Johnson for the inspiration to write this post. You can read another perspective about the Workforce of 2022 at Brenda’s Work, Career & Jobs @ 40+ Blog)

Lessons from PHL Eagles: Generation Gaps Occur At All Ages

Like many workers, one day earlier this year former Philadelphia Eagles Quarterback Donovan McNabb and Gen Xer came to work only to discover he was old.

The 6 time Pro-bowler and 5 time conference title QB was dealt to the division rival Washington Redskins.  One reason given for the trade was a generation gap, although Coach Andy Reid denied age was a part of the criteria in the decision to part ways with McNabb. 

One might expect that defensive remark coming from an employer in this litigious job market.  Age discrimination is a major concern as businesses try their best to rebuild their workforces. Many businesses chose to force early retirement and layoffs to create openings for younger, cheaper workers who could keep pace in a faster paced, more dynamic, and more innovative marketplace.

The wrinkle in this generation gap story however is that McNabb is only 33 years old.

As I’ve said before, the gap between generations isn’t always about age, but attitude. The Eagles new twenty-something line-up plays fast and they connect in a nanosecond. It even forces 52-year-old baby boomer Eagles head coach Andy Reid to keep his Blackberry charged.  “I text,” Reid says. “I’ll text something like ‘have a great day at practice.’ Or if I go through practice at the end I might shoot a guy a text like ‘great job’ or whatever the correction might be.

Ira-Behind-The-Lines-Aug2010Communication wasn’t quite the same with McNabb and former Eagle running back Brian Westbrook. Both players dominated much of the offense for the past seven years but both also had other life demands and interests that started to separate them for the younger players.

But this year it was out with the old and in with the new generation of younger players. Kevin Kolb, McNabb’s replacement 26, is the oldest of the offensive nucleus. Jeremy Maclin and LeSean McCoy are 22, while DeSean Jackson is 23. Tight end Brent Celek is 25. He and Kolb are the only guys in the group legally old enough to rent a car.

In addition to texting and tweeting, the new generation spends a lot of time together off the field. McNabb had a lot of different demands on his time. Jeremy Maclin felt that “being close in age you just kind of bond with guys a little more around your age. And I think it does translate to the field.”

Employers of all types of organizations could learn a lesson or two from the Eagles story.  First, generation gaps aren’t limited to Baby Boomers and Millennials. They occur between younger and older workers even when only a few years separate the workers.  Second, generations isn’t just influenced by age differences, but attitudes toward life and work.

Grandparents Surpass Grandchildren in the Labor Force

For nearly four decades Baby Boomers have been in the driver’s seat of politics, consumer trends, lifestyle decisions, and jobs.

But 2010 was supposed to be the turning point when Baby Boomers left the workforce en masse, retired off into the sunset, and turned the workforce over to heir apparent Generation X and the up-and-coming Millennials.

But thanks in part to the recession, for the first time on record there are more seniors than teenagers in the American labor force.


The orange line in the chart refers to the number of teenagers — workers aged 16-19 — who are in the labor force, meaning they either have jobs or are actively looking for jobs. The blue line shows the number of workers over age 65 who are in the labor force.

As you can see, starting last fall the number of older workers surpassed the number of teenage workers for the first time since at least 1948, when the Labor Department first began collecting statistics. If you look at just the employment of older workers versus teenagers — that is, how many workers actually have jobs — you will also find that older people surpassed teenagers for the first time recently, in mid-2008.

A recent New York Times article cited three primary reasons for the flip?

1.   There was always a certain percentage of Baby Boomers and the oldest generation, the Veterans, who would continue to work.

2. Older people are having to work longer.

3. The shift away from defined-benefit pensions toward defined-contribution pension plans, plus the sharp declines in equities since the financial crisis have all conspired to make it more difficult for older people to retire.

4. A weak economy plus a higher minimum wage might be discouraging employers from hiring teenage workers.

Regardless of the cause, joblessness in the Gen Y (aka Millennial) Generation is beginning to make history. According to a recent Pew Research Center  survey, a smaller share of 16- to 24-year-olds are currently employed — 46.1% — than at any time since the government began collecting such data in 1948.At best long-term implications of low unemployment for young workers include young adults living at home longer, higher college enrollment, and more internships. But a deep concern is growing how delayed entry into the workforce will translate into employee preparedness, not to mention the loss of lifetime earnings.

More older people needing work + more younger people giving up on work = grandparents surpassing grandchildren in the labor force. But that’s only a short-term statistic? Are we prepared for the long term consequences?

Read More Sobering thoughts on the U.S. Labor Market

Facing retirement: ’70 is the new 65′ – South Florida Sun-Sentinel.com

In some industries, such as nursing, the recession is almost a silver lining in the black cloud – it’s keeping some older workers on the job beyond the time they intended to retire.

Two-thirds of Americans 55 to 64 are in the workforce—the highest participation rate among that age group since the Bureau of Labor Statistics began keeping track in 1948.

Examples of similar deferred retirements show up across the nation.

The American Institute of Certified Public Accountants said 35 percent of its financial-planning professionals’ clients said they were postponing leaving the workforce because of the economy. The institute said two-thirds of the clients who said they would delay retirement expect to work an additional five years.

Ten years ago, 59 percent of the 55-to-64 age group was in the workforce. In May, that jumped to 65.6 percent, with 1.6 percentage points of the growth occurring since May 2008.

Among workers 65 and older, the labor force participation rate has grown even more precipitously. In May 1999, the participation rate was 12.5 percent; in May 2008, 16.6 percent; and in May 2009, 17.2 percent.

“What this suggests is that 70 is the new 65,” Institute Vice President James Metzler said in connection with the report’s release.

This lack of turnover due to slower baby boomer retirements is creating a false sense of security for many businesses. Just because the sun came out doesn’t mean the roof stopped leaking.  The longer Boomers stay, the more frustrated Gen X get frustrated by the Gray Ceiling.  Generation Y are also being turned away due to a lack of openings. 

Celebrating slower turnover due to delayed boomer retirements and ignoring the consequences of the delayed hiring and promotion of younger workers may come back to bite these businesses when business picks up and the competition for talent heats up.  Every organization needs to take a look 3 to 5 years out at their workforce demographics and plan accordingly. Ignorance is not bliss when it comes to workforce planning.

Read more about Facing retirement: ’70 is the new 65′ and the Gray Ceiling.

Read more about the Gray Ceiling and other trends in my new book, Geeks, Geezers, and Googlization.

The “Hole” Story

The story wasn’t new – a perfect labor storm is brewing.  But the title caught my eye.

The headline in today’s (May 4, 2008) Atlanta Journal Constitution stated the problem quite simply:

Hole story: Georgia work force faces gaps as boomers retire

The article begins with "the percentage of the state’s population ages 55 to 64 is growing (from 8.6 percent in 1998 to 12.2 percent in 2007), while the percentage of people younger than 24 is shrinking. At the same time, Georgia’s economy is expanding. This means there will be fewer entrants into the job market at the same time that older workers will be retiring."

That’s not big or new news unless you’ve just awakened from a 20 year sleep.  It’s significant in that still another state is realizing the gaping hole opening up in its workforce. 

The author does a good job of pointing out that shortages are imminent in management, leadership, healthcare, education, child care and the trades – electricians, plumbers and welders to name a few.

I’ve said it before-I’ll say it again:  the Perfect Labor Storm is not something that will happen to everyone else.  It’s a global-wide phenomenon and change the way every organizations does business.

Read the rest of the Hole Story.

Read more about the Perfect Labor Storm.