In Praise of Older Workers

Trabajar hasta los 100
Image by Heart Industry via Flickr

Now, as part of the tailing edge of the baby boomers myself, this all might seem to be somewhat self-serving to the younger audience, but hey, apparently there is a lot to be said about older workers — not least that there are boatloads of us around…

I came across this illuminating commentary in the Economist — “Age shall not wither them” — and wanted to share some of the highlights. If you have a few minutes it is certainly worth circling back and reading the original column from the Economist… in the meantime, here are some of the highlights I’ve extracted for your reading pleasure:

  • a recent survey found that 40% of employers worry that the ageing of the workforce will have a negative or very negative impact on their business;
  • from another survey, only 14% of managers think that their workplaces are prepared to cope with the greying of the workforce;
  • in America, 46% of jobs make almost no physical demands on workers;
  • in every year since 1996, Americans aged 55 to 64 launched more businesses that those aged 20 to 34;
  • older workers have lower levels of absenteeism than younger workers.

In terms of providing satisfying environments for older workers, three techniques are identified:

  1. Treating them as mentors for younger employees, given their wealth of institutional  and informal knowledge;
  2. Recognizing they respond to different incentives, such as work flexibility over money and promotions;
  3. Treating retirement as a process rather than a one-time event and structuring “bridge jobs” (seasonal, part-time, flexible leave, etc.).

It certainly makes sense to readjust our thinking about retirement to incorporate our demographic trends, the realities of work in our knowledge economy, the need for agility in our companies, and so on. Today’s reality of “retirement” grew out of the idea of a mandated and funded “hard stop” to work — the first formal program was created in 1889 in Bismark’s Germany, and specified a working age of 70. Of course, is important to note that at the time, estimates are that average life expectancy was somewhat less than 70 — so in reality the state wasn’t signing up to fund that many “retirements”, and certainly not for very many years for any particular individual.

Nowadays, we’ve slid the formal retirement age down to 65 or even 60 in some countries, life expectancy is pushing past 75 in males and early 80’s in females — the end result is a lot of good talent going idle, and an taxpayer funded economic time-bomb that will be exploding for the next several decades.

Time to rethink “retirement”, for a whole bunch of reasons….

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