A few years ago there were a number of articles in the news and much hand-wringing about the impact on the workforce as the baby boomers rode retired. Some of the biggest headlines came from the federal government, whose ability to determine retirement-eligible information painted a disturbing picture.
And then at the 11th hour, nothing happened. Well, people did start to retire, but not in the numbers that had been predicted. The other thing we learned was that the federal employees who were retiring did not leave their jobs on their retirement eligible dates. People were staying some number of years beyond that – retirement-eligible plus five or six more years, or longer.
The other thing that affected ultimate retirement dates was what was going on in the economy. As a result of the financial meltdown in 2008, employees were delaying when they left the workforce. Around this same time, first in the federal government and then in the private sector, people began considering the idea of “phased retirement.” Employees in both the public and private sectors still wanted to work and be engaged, just not five days and 40 hours to 50 hours a week.
In some ways, the federal government led the way with its alternate work schedule (AWS). Under this program, people could work four longer days and take off either Monday or Friday. This did not impact the work getting done. Then things moved from AWS to fewer days and fewer hours. This had implications for benefits coverage, time off and retirement contributions. Other aspects of the work relationship were affected and would need to be addressed, but it was the nuts and bolts of benefits and time off that came to the forefront.
In an article entitled, “For the Baby Boomers, the Tide is Ebbing on the Gray Tsunami,” Patty Kujawa cited some interesting statistics. There are 76.4 million baby boomers. About 65 percent plan to work beyond age 65. The article said that 67 percent want to transition into some type of phased retirement. Why is this happening? What are the implications for managers?
There are many reasons why people are working beyond age 65. People are healthier and living longer. For someone who retires at age 65 and lives into their 90s, their retirement would last for 25 years. Many people did not put themselves in a position to afford a 25-year retirement. These days, fewer people are retiring from physically demanding jobs. In the past, people needed to retire because they physically could no longer do the work required of them. Today’s knowledge workers like what they are doing and would like to continue to work, but with a less demanding schedule.
Assuming this trend continues, what will managers have to do differently? Knowing an employee’s plans in advance would be helpful. Of course, employees are not required to reveal this information. In some cases, they might fear it will not be well received. Hopefully, we all can get past that. The details of a person’s employment as they relate to his or her pension, paid time-off and other factors are just that – details. These should be easy to address. The biggest challenge from my perspective is communication and getting the work done. The more part-time workers you introduce into a situation increases the possibility of making a mistake. How do you mitigate that?
Of course, baby boomers are not the only employees in your workforce. You also have Gen Xers and millennials. They all will be working together. How do you optimize communication? Are these flexible schedules available to all employees, or only baby boomers? I think they have to be available to all employees.
Is there a different style of management that is more effective with a workforce on a flexible schedule? When I teach managers about management style, I talk about contingency theory. As a manager you need to think about the person, the work and the situation. You then choose your style of managing accordingly. It would seem that supervision would need to be tighter and communication more frequent. How will that work with the other part of your workforce who wants to text and tweet?
It is going to be interesting. There are no easy answers. The baby boom era is from 1946 to 1964. The tail end of the boomers will be working well into the 2020s. The good news is that having our baby boomers around longer should make the knowledge transfer of their experiences to the next generation easier. Being able to accommodate all the needs of an aging workforce will continue to provide challenges.
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Cece Nunn - Nov 11, 2019
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