How are Baby Boomers Affecting the Workplace?

Baby Boomers in a Multigenerational WorkplaceMany of us running businesses today are members of the Baby Boomer generation (born between 1946 and 1964).  In our younger years, we believed that we were going to change the world.

Our huge presence in the workforce and the marketplace has indeed caused many changes.  And as of 2011, the first of our generation turned 65, officially hitting retirement age.

Is your company prepared for the way the aging of Baby Boomers is going to shake up your workplace dynamic?

Baby Boomer job statistics:

  • Reports from the Bureau of Labor Statistics show that in 2011, there were more people 55 and older active in the workforce than any time in the past 30 years.

What are their intentions about their working future?

  • AARP published a study in June 2011, showing that 76 million Boomers would be facing retirement in the future.
  • However, when Boomers in the workforce were asked about their intentions, 41% responded that they did not want to quit working.

Will there be a Baby Boomer brain drain?

Prior to the Great Recession, a major concern for businesses was the coming brain drain, which would be caused by Boomers retiring in droves from the workplace, and taking with them their vast technical skills, historical knowledge, and honed industry-specific abilities.

A question now is, will this brain drain still play out as predicted?

It appears now that many Boomers will stay in the workforce longer as a result of the recession and the slow economic recovery.  Researchers are finding that these trends vary based on industries and occupations.

As an example, The Conference Board’s report, U.S. Workers Delaying Retirement, states that:

  • Government workers are still likely to retire on time, as they have access to guaranteed pension plans
  • Workers with higher salaries who depend on higher quality lifestyles are more likely to delay retirement
  • Workers in lower-paying, labor-intensive positions are more likely to retire early due to the harsher physical demands of their jobs.

What impact will Boomers who remain in the workforce have?

What kind of impact on our workplace will be caused by Boomers remaining longer in the workforce?

  • The Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts that by 2018, 25% of the workforce will be 55 and older.  One area that will undoubtedly be affected is expenses related to health care.

In the AARP study, only half of working Boomers said they are in good or excellent health.  We can predict that companies will be spending more on employee sick pay, as well as health insurance and life insurance benefits.

The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health reports that older workers are less likely to have accidents on the job, but that when they do, their recovery tends to take longer. Workers comp costs, therefore, may also be impacted.

How will Boomers  affect the career prospects of younger workers?

It’s not uncommon to read articles today about the impact the recession is having on young people who are just graduating from college.  Their career opportunities are already limited.

As the Boomers stay put, it may further limit the advancement opportunities of the generations beneath them.  The reverberations of these choices may have financial impacts for years to come, particularly on Generations X & Y.

Navigating a multi-generational workplace:

We know that a multi-generational workplace can become the source of conflict.  As Boomers remain in the workplace past the expected age of retirement, the potential for conflict can increase.

Many Boomers will be working transitionally as they phase themselves into retirement.  Gen X and Gen Y will be moving into management and supervisory roles as Boomers transition out of them.

Working Boomers may cling to their jobs, fearing that another opportunity may not come their way, while their generational counterparts will do corporate ladder hops in order to advance their careers.

Boomers will need to stay current with technology and the utilization of social media in order to be respected by their younger supervisors.

The Boomer generation that pushed tolerance and diversity in the ‘60s will also be required to stretch its own tolerance limits in order to accept young coworkers with new ideas about what is acceptable in the workplace.

Imagine 70 year olds reporting to 30 year olds who sport tattoos or ear plugs; imagine a multigenerational workforce where gender identification is immaterial and accepted:  the potential for conflicts between employees is quite apparent!

Is your business prepared for Boomers who don’t plan to retire?

What about those Boomers who do plan to retire?  Is your business prepared for that?

A poll by AARP revealed that 48% of companies have not, and will not, do any strategic planning to analyze the impact on their businesses of retirement by their Boomer employees.

There are many industries and occupations that will be severely impacted by Boomer retirements.  Your company needs to do some forecasting and planning, and get ready.

The AARP and the Society for Human Resource Management teamed up to create a free tool to help companies identify their potential skills gaps when their workforce faces retirement.  Not only does it assess critical functions, it also takes a critical look at the programs in place to retain workers.

Companies must be welcoming to an aging workforce:

Just as Boomers need to make changes in order to fit into organizations that may very well be led by, and staffed with, workers younger than themselves, company leaders need to set a tone that is welcoming and tolerant of an aging workforce.

Age bias can be subtle or overt, but either way, it violates the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, which protects individuals age 40 or above, with very few exceptions.

This means workers, regardless of their age, must be offered opportunities to advance, to access training, to transfer to desired positions, to be rewarded for their performances, and to receive feedback and coaching.

Employers must adjust to a new workforce dynamic:

Study after study reinforces that Baby Boomers will be working far longer than their parents did.

AARP’s study found that almost 50% of Boomers see themselves working until the age of 70 or more.  36% said they will never be able to afford retirement.

An aging workforce is a new dynamic for business managers and co-workers to contend with.  Strategies for capitalizing on Boomers’ assets, controlling inevitable conflicts, and minimizing potential pitfalls must be put into place in order for all parties to achieve success and fulfillment.

7 Responses to “How are Baby Boomers Affecting the Workplace?”

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  7. Marla Edwards

    Enjoyed reading this material. I am a Baby Boomer who after many years have returned to college for my Bachelors. I have full tuition reimbursement and embrace this new path I am on. I am doing a paper on Diversity and Change in the US workforce so this article was spot on. Thank you.

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