You don’t have to look far to find one article or another discussing how Millennials are impacting the world around them. Though Millennials may be hogging all the attention these days (perhaps because they claimed the title of Canada’s largest living generation in 2015), don’t think that means that Baby Boomers aren’t making their voices heard, too.

Boomers are defined as those born between 1946 and 1965, meaning the youngest among them are already over 50. They’re the largest and arguably the most influential cohort in history. Their Millennial kids are certainly trying to give them a run for their money, though.


boomers are changing what retirement means

Boomers are aging, and rapidly approaching the age when visions of retirement dance in their heads (if they’re not already there.) At the same time, the world of work and the way work is performed is dramatically evolving. Reaching age 65 is no longer a death knell for your career. Many Boomers are opting to continue working well into their golden years, with many saying their post-65 working years are some of the best of their career.

For the first time in history, Canada is home to more people over the age of 65 than those 15 and under. Boomers make up 27% of the population, up from 18% two decades ago. 16% of the population is now over 65, or what used to pass for retirement age. In ten years, it’s estimated more than 20% of Canadians will be of retirement age. The decade after that, it will be around 25%. By 2031, the entire baby-boom generation will be 65 and over.

what does this mean for employers?

As Boomers opt to leave the workforce and enjoy retirement, employers will find themselves engaged in a struggle to find talent as retirement attrition shrinks the labour pool. While this means lower unemployment, it also suggests higher salaries will be necessary and increased taxes will be needed to pay for higher in-demand services and infrastructure maintenance.

The ‘dramatic greying of Canada’s demography’ as the Globe and Mail calls it, has serious implications for every facet of our world: the national economy, government policy, health care and social supports, and what happens when a shrinking pool of taxpayers is obliged to support a growing number of seniors. The world of work will not go unscathed; in fact, organizations already feel the effects of an aging workforce that, instead of running towards and embracing retirement, circle it warily and with uncertainty.

why aren’t boomers rushing toward retirement?

They’re healthier, fitter and more active than their predecessors. In many organizations, they hold the most senior and best-paying jobs. They’re used to a certain standard of living and, realistically or not, have the same expectations for their retirement. But for many Boomers, they simply don’t have enough savings to ensure a quality retirement, especially as they’re expected to live considerably longer and will need more money to support an extended old age.

Many seniors watched their investments and savings shrink during recent recessions and low-interest rates. They’re finding themselves working longer in an effort to rebuild their retirement fund at the same time as there’s little do-over time left on the clock. Those organizations that offered pension plans have shrunk their contributions over time, leaving many retirement-aged workers counting on little more than coffee money.

why some boomers continue to embrace work

Many Boomers are looking at their golden years as a second act, when they can work because they want to, not because they have to. They’re embracing new careers and ways of working on their own terms that allow them flexibility and the opportunity to interact socially at the same time as they’re valued for their experience and knowledge. For those Boomers, salary is no longer the deal breaker. They have lots to offer and are in no hurry to remove themselves from a career they’ve spent decades carefully building.

Workers who work past retirement age are generally more engaged, enjoy higher rates of job satisfaction and have higher levels of commitment to their organizations than their younger colleagues. Statistics show that fully engaged employees are happier, healthier, take fewer sick days, create stronger customer relationships, and work at a higher level of excellence, regardless of their age. Few, if any, organizations can afford to lose those qualities in their workforce.

So how is this trend affecting the workplace?

so how is this trend affecting the workplace?

When Boomers do transition out of the workforce, decades of organizational knowledge will leave with them. Many companies are already concerned about the approaching ‘brain drain.’ How will they keep the knowledge and skills older workers possess in-house?

This is where succession planning plays a critical role in successful workforce management. How will information, knowledge, and experience be passed on to younger workers to avoid disruption of morale, services, and productivity? Where will knowledge be stored so it’s accessible, safe and easily transferred? What criteria will be used to identify potential candidates to fill vacancies and what training will be provided to ensure a seamless transition?

Many organizations have not yet made provisions for retaining older workers. They haven’t established workforce management strategies to deal successfully with an older employee demographic. Their workplaces aren’t multi-generationally inclusive; their employer brands are youth-oriented; they haven’t established work cultures or an employer value proposition that considers the needs and wants of older workers.

Some complain that the cost of higher wages and health insurance, coupled with the cost of training older workers in social media and new technologies, outweigh the benefits gained by retaining these workers. What these businesses don’t anticipate is the blow to productivity, profits and long-term success they’ll experience when the Boomer wave departs the workforce and launches its next great adventure. Not paying attention or operating proactively will prove costly.

mitigating those risks isn’t complicated. Here are some ideas to consider in planning for the future of your organization:

  • Identify which skills shortages will create challenges.

  • Create a work environment that attracts qualified workers of all ages.

  • Manage a multi-generational workforce. 

  • Build an employer brand that attracts and retains top talent, regardless of age.

  • Make sure hiring processes enhance age diversity.

  • Be aware of issues faced by older workers and develop ways of accommodating them.

The nature of work where many younger workers find only precarious, part-time, temporary work – the gig economy of flexible work - is the very thing their retirement-aged colleagues are embracing. For those young people frequently relegated to their parents’ basements in an effort to pay off student debt or gain a financial foothold, future retirement is too elusive and impossible a vision to imagine or consider financing.  Their concept of retirement, how it will look and how they’ll fund it, will be radically different regardless of how it will be defined.

But remember, different isn’t something to fear. It’s where critical skills like flexibility, creativity, and resilience reside. Those are exactly the critical skills required for success in today’s workplaces, as well as those in the future.

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