on Organizations, Third Agers and Retirement
James H. Krefft, Ph.D
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
stakeholders should care about how their enterprises choose, or choose
not, to redefine retirement in the 21st Century because three
waves of change are – steadily, unstoppably – converging on
demographic Santa Ana wind;
distracted workforce heatwave; and,
these waves of change come together, they will create the conditions for
a “Perfect Drought” – a drought in organizational competency. 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.
offer the metaphor of the Santa Ana winds – hot, dry winds that
produce brutally low humidity in California, drying out vegetation and
making it extremely combustible – to represent the coming impact of
the graying of the Baby Boomers. 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.
the U.S. 10,000 people a day are retiring, and the number is going to
keep going up until 2025. Every
11 seconds a Boomer in the U.S. turns 60, and the rate will accelerate
for 15 years, peaking in 2020, during which boomers will turn 60 at a
rate of one every 6 seconds. The
GAO forecasts that some Federal agencies will be losing up to 45% of
their entire workforces in the next 5 years.
By 2050 our planet will be home to 2 billion people over 60.
a particular organization such generalized figures and forecasts provide
at best quaint curiosities for dreary debate around the water cooler.
Rather, each enterprise needs to understand its own, and its
industry, demographic profile – more precisely, its combination of
profiles and the interconnections among them – above all the
demographics of its continuity infrastructure.
Sometimes there is a disparity between what demographic numbers seem
to say on the surface and what they are really saying underneath.
older a worker gets, the more he or she is at risk of being distracted
on the job. We chose the
metaphor of a heatwave because many of the distractions to which people
over 50 are subjected are intensely emotional, felt by a Third
Ager but not seen by co-workers unless the person’s emotions boil to a
point that she or he acts out in atypical ways.
When a coworker sees someone acting in “that’s not like
him” ways, distraction has produced dysfunction, and the organization
suffers the consequences.
we are not talking about the everyday distractions we all face.
The distractions faced
by workers in their 50s can be deeply personal, including personal
health problems and the side effects from medications; a spouse or
partner with an illness; ailing, dying parents; anxiety about what they
have, or have not, saved for retirement; and worries about competing,
especially keeping up technologically.
Agers can be likewise distracted by positive forces: a yearning
to rebuild tattered relationships, a desire to travel, a passion to make
a difference in the community, a drive to paint, sculpt, write, sing,
dance, act. The
“negative” distractions may capture the headlines, but our sense is
that the “positive” distractions are the more spellbinding forces at
work in people’s lives. Most
Third Agers will of course be barraged by both positive and negative
productivity downdraft will hit when the current "productivity
bubble" bursts. Everyone reading these words has experienced
in the last 20 years the blistering backdraft of shrinking
headcount. And organizational leaders have gotten what they
wanted: a spike in productivity. A productivity bubble. By
concentrating key organizational and technical know-how into fewer and
fewer hands, however, 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.
this threat to organizational survival is likely to get only more
hazardous as companies desperate to maintain market share and profit
margins continue to try to downsize their way to success.
As an unintended consequence of additional workforce reductions,
the concentration of institutional knowledge, technical expertise, and
vital relationships into fewer and fewer hands will continue to
accelerate. It’s going to be one heck of a game of headcount chicken.
increase in unemployment following 9/11 has served only to mask the
longer-term imbalances in supply and demand in the job market. In many organizations bench strength has already grown so
thin so fast that leaders will have but one choice when the productivity
bubble bursts: launch a bidding war for the people who have the
competencies they need. War
for Talent II, this time with feeling.
Third Agers will be waiting.
But which organizations will they choose to work for?
Part 4 of this series we’ll discuss how Third Agers can become
rainmakers during the Perfect Drought.
Copyright 2004 James H. Krefft, Ph.D.
and The Center for Third Age Leadership, LLC
Krefft is an author, consultant, and President of The Center for Third