By: Donna Taglione, Vice President
Full transparency: I am a baby boomer. Born right in the middle of the largest generation–until Millennials. For many of my generation, retirement is a dirty word; it’s an inevitability to be delayed as long as possible. As a group, Baby Boomers have been fighting aging since we turned 30! After all we weren’t supposed to trust anyone over 30 until, of course, we became 30 ourselves and realized we were just getting started.
All kidding and old jokes aside, the reality is that 10,000 Boomers will turn 65 every day between now and 2029. Retirement has already started for many and isn’t that far off for more than half of the Baby Boom generation. My children, Millennials that they are, are probably saying “Finally! What’s taking you so long?” But the sheer volume of pending retirements is staggering and prompts the question how will the obvious “changing of the guard” affect corporate life?
Demographers and business historians estimate that Baby Boomers currently hold 56% of corporate leadership positions. Additionally, two-thirds of all businesses (about 4 million companies) are owned by Baby Boomers. Yet, according to a survey of Fortune 1000 employers, and of critical importance to business in general, 62% of Fortune 1000 employers believe that Baby Boomer retirements will result in a skilled labor shortage sometime in the next five years. In the next 5 years! How is this possible? What should people and companies be doing to prepare for a potential gap in skills? Are companies and their mid-career managers (Gen X and Gen Y) prepared for corporate memory to walk out the door?
Truth be told, with each generation there is always a need for new and fresh perspectives. Somehow it is a lot easier to swallow that new idea when you are on the younger end of the continuum espousing it rather than on the side that finds itself thinking “been there done that”! Yet companies and managers are going to have to creatively manage the knowledge transfer required as the current generation of executives makes room for the next generation.
Partial retirement or flexible working arrangements–typically a two-year offer with reduced hours and benefits–is one way companies are exploring the retention of certain levels of management so their knowledge can be shared with those next in line for their pay grade. Reverse mentoring, popularized by former GE Chairman Jack Welsh, matches senior executives with 20 and 30-somethings to share experiences. Reverse mentoring closes the knowledge gap for both older and younger age groups and can identity future leaders. Succession planning prepares others internally to assume key business positions. Encore consultancy – when a person “retires” on Friday yet returns on Monday as a part-time consultant for the job they just left – has caught on in some organizations. Are these enough? Are companies paying attention to what corporate life will be like after a generation of workers retire?
I distinctly remember going to my father’s retirement party. Lots of people I’d never met before talking about a side of my dad that I never really knew at home. It was quite enlightening to hear that your dad–the guy who fell asleep on the couch waiting up for you–was a person others looked up to and respected. I don’t think a lot of companies “do” retirement parties anymore. My dad worked for the same company for 37 years. That kind of tenure is almost unheard of now. When I retire, even though I’ve been in the same industry for over 30 years, I’ll have worked at the same company for about 12 years. Certainly not worthy of a full blown celebration. But party or no party, over the course of the next fifteen years, one very large generation, used to setting standards for how things get done (Baby Boomers), is about to retire and be replaced by an even larger generation (Gen Y/Millennials) in the early to middle stage of their careers. Are we ready?