Perspectives on Organizations, Third Agers and Retirement

By James H. Krefft, Ph.D  

An ongoing series exploring the kinds of large-scale changes organizations will have to make to survive the never-before-seen, across-the-board discontinuity that will be caused by the crush of Boomer retirements in the next 5-15 years.  Organizations that put in place a comprehensive continuity plan for making these gut-wrenching transformations will survive, even thrive.  The rest will rot or die.

Part 2 – A Perfect Drought

Who should take an interest in the question: How should organizations redefine retirement?  And, why?

The principal stakeholders in the vital redefinition issue fall into one or more of four groups: stewards, prospective retirees, affiliates, and retirees.  Stewards include anyone who has as a part of his or her job an accountability (specific or general) for the continuity and survivability of an organization.  Put all together, the people who do these kinds of jobs every day constitute an organization’s continuity infrastructure.

Anyone who spends chunks of time pondering the question, “Should I stay, or should I go?” falls into the prospective retirees group.  You know who you are: you can quote crime statistics like an FBI agent, rates of return like an investment banker, and travel options like a cruise director.  If retirement planning were Three-Card Monty, you’d be a millionaire.

Affiliates are non-employees who have, or had, an ongoing relationship with a business, nonprofit, or government organization.  The non-employees may either be former employees or professionals, technicians, and paraprofessionals who work independently but whose livelihood is closely tied to organizations.

And, yes, retirees have a stake in the question, because within a year or so of retiring, a large percentage of retirees are working again, either full time or part time.  How come?  And, what are they doing?  The short answers: they need to, and mostly the same old thing.  They need the money, or the human connections, or to be doing “something” to keep from being bored.

Here’s why these stakeholders should care about how organizations choose, or choose not, to redefine retirement in the 21st Century.  Unstoppably, three waves of change are converging on today’s organizations, and when these waves of change come together they will create the conditions for “A Perfect Drought” – a drought in organizational competency.  The ‘War for Talent’ is coming back, a relapse that will threaten the health of organizations across the board. 

We forecast that these three waves of change are moving our way: a demographic Santa Ana wind; a distracted workforce heatwave; and a productivity downdraft.  Over the last few years many prognosticators have been blaring trumpets regarding the demographic Santa Ana wind currently being triggered by the graying of the Baby Boomer generation, but fewer forecasters have paid attention to the now intensifying distracted workforce heatwave or to the productivity downdraft looming on the horizon.

The eye-popping numbers associated with the Boomers are easy to find and easy to quote.  The trend lines bring gasps from audiences, shake actuaries to their souls, and send gerontologists running for Geritol.  10,000 people a day are retiring, and the number is going to keep going up until 2025.

The older a worker gets, the more he or she is at risk of being distracted on the job.  The social thermals at work in the distracted workforce heatwave are more difficult to pinpoint because many of them are emotional in nature.  The distractions faced by workers in their 50s can be deeply personal.

The productivity downdraft will hit when the current “productivity bubble” bursts.  By downsizing and concentrating key organizational and technical know-how into fewer and fewer hands, leaders have now placed their enterprises at risk for a new reason.  When the 50-somethings begin to check out, the bubble is going to burst.  We’re looking right at the productivity bubble, right now, and we are refusing to believe what we are seeing.

In Part 3 of this series we’ll discuss these three waves of change in more detail.

  Copyright 2004 James H. Krefft, Ph.D. and The Center for Third Age Leadership, LLC

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Jim Krefft is an author, consultant, and President of The Center for Third Age Leadership.