aging workforce: a crisis or opportunity?
Ronn E. Williamson
show that more than 10,000 people are retiring each day in the U.S. and
that number is increasing rapidly due to the size of the “Baby
Boomer” population. According
to recent U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics data, by the year 2010 there
will a shortage of more than 10 million skilled workers in this country.
of severe shortages are evident even today in certain industries such as
healthcare, but there is the mistaken belief that this is just shifting
workforce demographics at work again.
Not true! Baby
Boomers constitute a giant population wave that is permanently changing
the landscape as it rolls along.
Boomers leave the workforce, it will mean scrambling to attract the
smaller population of young workers and bidding up wages for all skilled
positions. How will
organizations avoid this coming worker shortage before it turns into a
Healing the Rift
put, the key will be in retaining older workers longer. But there is a
huge rift that has been increasing in recent years between older workers
and the organizations that employ them.
If we are to depend on the experience and expertise of older
workers in the future, we must start to address the negative stereotypes
of aging that reside in our workplaces and our society.
December of 2002, the Conference Board, in a survey of 1500 workers from
member organizations, revealed that one third of those age 50 to 55 do
not feel respected by their company.
recent fact sheet on older workers by Jan Hively, of the University of
Minnesota College of Continuing Education, summarized common employer
myths about older workers as:
is a deterrent to productivity
are not important to the older worker
in age is correlated with diminishing value on the job
workers are rigid, inflexible, and unable to compete mentally
(not worth it) to train older workers
it curious to hear that older workers view their organizations as rigid
and inflexible while the organizations themselves view older workers as
rigid and inflexible?
opportunity presented by our aging workforce comes from what Dr. William
Sadler refers to as second growth in his book “The Third Age
– 6 Principles For Growth and Renewal After Forty.”
of viewing life after age 50 as downhill, second growth means individuals
can create a fulfilling new roadmap for this period in their life journey.
With Baby Boomers at 76 million strong, such a paradigm shift for
aging will have a tremendously positive impact in our workplaces and
change will require three things: 1) a process of personal
transformation, which calls for reflection and openness to change; 2) an
organizational change in attitude, perspective, and policies towards
third age workers; and 3) a redefinition of retirement as a period of
growth with new forms of work.
Sadler gives an example in his book using a fifteen-year connection to a
man he called Woody. Woody
was a successful lawyer working in healthcare who began a new life plan
in his forties. He reduced
his long hours on the job by managing his office to develop
delegation and teamwork skills. The extra time he gained was used
volunteering, which led to a totally new career in his late fifties.
By the time he was 63, he was still working hard and loving every
minute of it.
The Role of Employers
must be able to work with senior employees at all levels to determine
their needs and desires and make plans accordingly.
example, as the shortage of Registered Nurses (RNs) continues to grow, a
study by Carol Brewer, a professor at the University of Buffalo,
concluded that key strategies should be focused on the older nurse to
keep RNs in the workforce longer. Recommendations
included improved working conditions, tuition breaks for additional
training, and benefits like flexible work hours – solutions other than
just throwing money at the problem in the form of higher wages.
must be done will vary by organization and industry.
Collectively and individually, we must recognize and tap this
incredible human resource potential to avoid the unprecedented shortage
of skilled workers that will follow the Baby Boomer wave – and we can
change the destructive, negative stereotypes of aging in the process.
By Ronn E. Williamson
All rights reserved.
Williamson is a consultant and trainer and a member of The Center for
Third Age Leadership.