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)

Slow Job Creation Heats Up Generation Tensions

While the economy sputters, tensions heats up between the generations.

Lost in the diversity of generational news last week was a common element – the generations are struggling to right themselves following the recession and going forward.

The just released cover story of October’s The Atlantic magazine talks about the Baby Boomers’ last chance to redeem themselves after what the writer Michael Kinsley describes as decades of self-absorbed and self-indulgent behavior.

The postwar generation is leaving a bitter legacy: crumbling infrastructure, crushing public debt, and a reflexive cynicism about all institutions, from churches to Congress to the media. It’s time for redemption…Kinsley urges fellow Boomers to cough up some cash—say, $14 trillion—to fix the mess they’re leaving.

That could be a problem.  Boston College's Center for Retirement Research released a study last week too that exposed a retirement income deficit that few people likely found surprising. The gap between what Americans need for retirement and the amount they have saved is a staggering $6.6 trillion.

“The retirement income deficit is the gap between the pensions and retirement savings that American households have today and what they should have today to be on track to maintain their living standard in retirement,” said Karen Friedman, executive vice president and policy director of the Pension Rights Center. “The retirement income deficit shows just how bad the crisis has become.”

If Baby Boomers can’t maintain the lifestyle they’ve grown accustomed to, they will likely keep working.  An article in Fast Company last week offered harsh realities that have stymied Generation Y (also called Millennials). Topping the list was: The Baby Boomers are not voluntarily leaving the workplace! :

The Recession has decimated the Boomers’ opportunity to retire and left them with no choice but to continue to work for the foreseeable future. And, because Boomers are living during a period when medical science is going to continue to improve their ability to be healthy and work, that “foreseeable future” is a lot longer than anyone could have imagined!

As I’ve described in several articles in the past, that’s bad news for Generation X and Generation Y.  The Fast Company article goes on to describe several scenarios that will only feed the frustration felt by the jobless Gen Ys and career-stalled Gen X.

Not only are the Boomers going to remain in the workplace but they are also going to retain their positions of authority…If they are forced out of their current employment positions, Baby Boomers will actively compete with the Millennials for other jobs!

And despite being recognized as “digital natives” and the “Internet Generation,” the advantage these young Gen Y adults may be dissipating with time. The fourth harsh reality describes

“…how the Technological Edge the Millennials touted as the differentiator between them and the other Generations in the workplace is diminishing as the other Generations, faced with no choice, close the technological gap. Boomers may never be able to text as fast as Millennials but they will be able to text fast enough for the workplace! And Boomers have the interpersonal skill set to go with the texting skill set!”

Putting the shrinking technology gap into perspective, one group wonders if the technology gap is myth or reality.  The author says “I find that Millennial (Google Generation) students have the fastest thumbs in the west and can answer a cell phone call at the speed of light.  Beyond this, their technology related skills, from an academic perspective, seem quite limited.” 

This was also the topic of conversation before and during a panel discussion last week at Harrisburg University. While all the panelists agree that Generation Y are the most comfortable generation using technology, they may not be the most skilled at applying it in the workplace.

Of course, the more imminent impact of the recession and delayed departure of Baby Boomers will be felt by Generation X.  Kinsley wrote in a forum response to his Atlantic article how “Gen-Xers are going to get screwed by [the entitlements and debt government is accumulating] even more than Boomers as the bills come in.”

And while the bills could be huge, the impact on society could be even bigger. 

The U.S. Census Bureau released a report, Income, Poverty, and Health Insurance Coverage in the United States: 2009, last week too. It revealed that that one in seven Americans are living in poverty.  It  also found that more than 8 percent of people between 25 and 34 (mostly Generation Y) are living with their parents.

Education is often prescribed as the solution to society’s ills and as the pathway to regaining our competitive position in the global marketplace.  If the prescription is correct, then the patient is dying based on a new report, Yes We Can: The Schott 50 State Report on Public Education and Black Males 2010. Calling it a "national crisis," the report found that only 47 percent of black males graduated from high school in the 2007-2008 school year. And in New York City, the district with the nation's highest enrollment in African American students, only 28% percent of its African American males students receive a high school diploma.

Poverty and poor graduation rates are unlikely to significantly increase tensions between generational gaps in the workforce.  But ignoring these problems will only add to the burden borne by future generations who will need to figure out ways to support millions of people who are unemployable.

In the short term, the longer unemployment remains high the more resentment will likely build between generations both in the workplace and in our communities.

Surge in Seniors Strains Economy and Caregivers

Republicans thought people could save for it. Democrats thought government could provide it. Both are wrong.

Caring for an aging population is beginning to strain our economy and stress out a rising legion of caregivers.

Political parties have taken turns over the past 50 years controlling government and they have both failed to solve the problem. Now we are stuck in neutral and rolling backwards.

By 2020, forty-three states will see an increase of over 70 percent in their 65 and over population compared with just 20 years earlier.  And 29 states will see an increase of 70 percent in their 85 and over population during the same period.  In fact, only 1 state, Arkansas, will see an increase of less than 50 percent in both the 65- and 85 and older demographics.

This is an amazing success story in longevity, but a problem that the government, our friends and neighbors, and the economy is unprepared to absorb.

Dependency-ratios-US- 2010-2050 First of all, nearly all retirement and health care projections are based on a working population capable of supporting older residents.  Unfortunately the percentage of working age adults is decreasing.  In 2010, 60 percent of the U.S. is aged 20-64.  By 2030, the proportion of these working ages will drop to 55 percent.  The age dependency ratio,  the proportion of seniors to workers,  will almost double over the next 20 years — from 21 per 100 workers to 39.

This “silver tsunami” is also creating a legion of people caring for adults and the elderly.  Twenty-nine percent of the U.S. adult population, or 65.7 million people, are caregivers, including 31 percent of all households. These caregivers provide an average of 20 hours of care per week.

American caregivers are predominantly female (66%) and are an average of 48 years old.  That puts working Baby Boomers in their prime working years balancing a career with caring for aging parents and raising their own children. The sandwich generation, as this group had been called, often reduces the number of hours they work.  An even greater number continues to work but loses focus and becomes more stressed.  For employers this translates to lower productivity, more accidents and mistakes, and the loss of talent. 

As the aging tsunami breaks on the shores of our economy, new challenges will alter the workplace landscape.  Political parties are clearly divided on how to fix the problems.  Solutions will come from individuals and local communities.  Employers that recognize opportunity in this sea of change will reap the benefits as our workforce and nation grows older.

Are Baby Boomers overstaying their welcome as guests in the workplace?

The “I’ll work forever” attitude of the Baby Boomers is bringing movement up the career ladder to a complete stand-still.  It’s like waiting for a table in a busy restaurant when the guests at the table you want have finished their dessert and paid the bill but are busy chatting well beyond their “allotted” time.  The longer they stay, the more intense the glares and more uncomfortable everyone becomes.

Fellow blogger Sue Danbom posed an intriguing post this morning when she asked, “Brett Favre – Poster Child for "Un-retirement." Will Boomers Do the Same?  There is no question the Baby Boomers will be hanging around the workplace longer than anyone ever expected.  For some organizations that's a good thing….for others, it's bad.  While Boomers may have the experience, they don't always possess the talent and skills needed to compete in the “new economy.” (Don't confuse the War for Talent with a shortage of people to fill the jobs.  The War for Talent is still being fought over skilled workers, with an emphasis on "skilled.")

Sue highlights Favre’s journey from his Hall of Fame career to the soap-opera history of his retirement to un-retirement to retirement.  Last week he announced his latest un-retirement. And she rightfully asks if Boomers, “Like Favre, will they have second (and third and fourth) thoughts after they leave the workforce?”

That’s a great question and I strongly believe the answer will be YES.  But management will be remiss if they don't anticipate the loss of Gen X who feel they are trapped by the likes of Boomers in Brett Favre clothing.   The postponed retirements and perpetual un-retirements is creating a measureable resentment in the Gen X cohort who are getting blocked by a thickening Gray Ceiling.  This ceiling is not only frustrating Gen X, but Gen Y too. 

For those organizations who don't take heed, they could easily lose the experience and wisdom of both the seated guests (Boomers) and the wait list (Gen X and Gen Y at the same time.

It’s also important to recognize that Brett Favre is not a Baby Boomer.  While Brett Favre's behavior might resemble that of an aging Boomer, he is a Generation X born in 1969.  So I ask, is Favre a Baby Boomer trapped in a Gen X body or is his behavior a sign of things to come for aging Gen Xers, too?

Retiring Baby Boomers need truckloads of money to pay for health care

Baby Boomers who are chopping at the bit to retire will need truckloads of money to pay for health-care expenses over the course of their retirement, according to a new study.

The reality is this: Men retiring at age 65 in 2009 will need from $68,000 to $173,000 in savings to cover health-insurance premiums and out-of-pocket expenses in retirement if they want a 50/50 chance of being able to have enough money, and $134,000 to $378,000 if they prefer a 90% chance, according to a study published last week by the Employee Benefits Research Institute.

Women — with their greater longevity — will need even more money. A women retiring at age 65 in 2009 will need from $98,000 to $242,000 in savings to cover insurance premiums and out-of-pocket expenses in retirement for a 50/50 chance of having enough money, and $164,000 to $450,000 for a 90% chance.

Read more.