The (R)aging Workforce

The workforce is ageing. Thanks again baby boomers. Or, more fairly, thanks again baby boomers’ parents. And it’s becoming more female. That’s not the baby boomers’ fault, that’s just luck, (Good luck, I hasten to stress). This demographic bulge in the pipeline isn’t happening in isolation either. Many other influences are swishing around the graph as well. People are retiring later, living longer, and technology is influencing the very nature of work and traditional employment relationships. So, it’s entirely possible that today entry level employees south of twenty could be sitting next to someone in the lunchroom at work who bought Beatles LPs on vinyl, not because that’s hip, but because vinyl was the only medium upon which recorded music was commercially available at the time. Are there any risks an employer should be managing in this scenario and are there any bonus positives they could be encouraging?

I read of Scandinavian societies where planners build childcare facilities near, or even within, retirement communities. The theory being a mutually beneficial relationship born of proximity. The young ones can hang out around people of their grandparents’ age on a regular basis, perhaps gleaning some wisdom. The retirees can be exposed to some energy and enthusiasm of the youth. Plenty of research exists to back up the logic for both. Missing from the equation are that middle generation who are presumably off working and earning income to pay directly for, or subsidise via taxes, the upkeep of the other two generations. They also probably never stopped buying music on vinyl.

Mentoring is an obvious potential benefit but be wary of the traps of stereotypes. Just because someone is old doesn’t make them wise. (I learned that the hard way – thanks me). Just because someone is young does not make them wet clay for someone to mould. On average though, this whole demographic bulge does increase the odds that at your place of work, there will be a few more people to the older end with some capacity to pass on some views or to act as a sounding board. I’d still advise having some assessment processes in place to assure you’re pairing the right people together. Also, why not have a look outside your place of work for these mentor folk? Many people still do retire at an age that might be considered traditional. They’re not all on golf courses, writing erotic fiction or being pushed out to sea on Viking cremation rafts. Many just opted out of the traditional workforce and want to spend their time and talents on their terms. They might not know a Kardassian from an angry bird but they can be an ad hoc just-in-time resource for such mentoring assignments.

It’s not all one-way of course, and once again I warn of stereotyping, but those kids sure can help us sort out the wifi, am I right? And how would we know we were being offensive if someone under thirty didn’t post about us the next day?

When I first started writing this article, I started with the title and no idea where I was going with it. The assigned topic was “aging workforce” and the pun “raging workforce” leapt to mind. In retrospect, I guess I just assumed they’d be angry about something. Then I started doing some research and decided to keep “raging” in the title. Not raging, as in angry, but raging as in partying. Now, obviously, this won’t apply to everyone of a certain age and when we talk demographics, we’re usually looking at trends and averages. Just relax, I’m sure there are lots of angry people approaching retirement age and you might be one of them or their boss. But, on the whole, if you’ve got a job and a high probability of keeping it, there’s probably never been a better time in history to be 65-ish.

One workforce report found only 19% of older workers experienced negative discriminatory behaviour towards them at least “every now and then”. That’s not too bad. I experience that level of negative discriminatory behaviour towards me daily in my house. There are a bunch of surveys asking such “mature-age” workers what factors from HR and management affect them. Those factors aren’t that far off those that affect every worker regardless of age. Topping the list though ahead of the average-aged worker were recognition and respect. The tone of this article probably isn’t helping.

What would help people at the far end of the career arc is the same thing that would’ve helped them at the start of that journey – feeling welcomed and valued, a clear idea of expectations, and a managed process to move ahead. Oh, and a discount coupon to a skin clinic and a time machine.


7 November 2017


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Once a month you'll get a single email digest of the article postings and updates from Terry Williams - keynote motivational conference or after-dinner speaker and leadership author. Sometimes funny, sometimes inspirational, often provocative. A unique New Zealand perspective from a thought leader generating and challenging ideas to help you learn to lead, motivate, influence, engage and move your team. Engage people; Improve results!