Boomers are sending a very clear signal to the new economy: we are not “moving over” any time soon to cede our careers to younger generations. Traditional retirement at 65 is either unaffordable or irrelevant to a generation that either must keep working to survive, and/or wants to keep working to serve a meaningful and purposeful life. This is not a call to intergenerational competition. That serves no purpose: each generation is needed to lend a hand in unstable, rapidly changing times. But it is a call to employers and clients to revise and update their often-outdated and inaccurate views of older workers.
Fortunately for all concerned, a recent survey by the Transamerica Center for Retirement Studies provides some important guidelines for Boomers and Employers to better understand how to create the intergenerational workplace we all need.
In fact, it is economically short-sighted to either cling to, or enforce the traditional retirement age as a normal, expected withdrawal from the workforce. Americans over-55 will rise from 13 percent of the population in 2010 to 20 percent by 2030. It is no wonder that we need to keep working: the rest of the country (and the world, actually, as this is a global phenomenon) won’t be able to support us. We need to be able to support ourselves.
According to the TCRS, employers seem to agree. Contrary to the widely held notion that most employers can’t wait to downsize Boomers, well over 80 percent of employers surveyed feel that Boomers are valuable for their ability to train and mentor others, for their institutional knowledge and for their wisdom and life experience. Still, there is much to be done to both reassure Boomers that they are valued, and to put programs in place to demonstrate employers’ support. Education is high on the list, with employers needing to make sure that Boomers understand available benefit plans within the company, and how to best utilize them, as well as training to understand how to deal with Social Security and Medicare. Additional work on providing certain key benefits is also on the agenda, including support for planning and transitioning to phased retirements, and offering more specific health care benefits valued by older employees, including disability, long-term care, critical care and cancer insurance. Finally, employers can do more to foster a truly intergenerational workplace, adopting internal policies and practices to reinforce the value of diversity within company cultures.
Boomer employees need to do their part as well to adapt to this new environment. TCRS suggests a number of steps Boomers can take to contribute to their own success in the new workplace. They boil down to three overall categories:
1. Be proactive. While nearly half of Boomers say they are focusing on maintaining good performance on the job, staying healthy, and keeping their skills up to date, far fewer recognize the value of networking, staying on top of the overall employment market in their field, or going back to school to gain new knowledge or skills. Only 1 percent of Boomers are active in all of these pursuits. If we are to be taken seriously in the work place, and competitive with younger workers who are arguably more in touch with contemporary digital business skills and workflows, we need to “level up.” If we are going to be successful, and stop being perceived as too old, too expensive and too out of touch, we need to be much more engaged.
2. Plan better. Whether it’s getting out of denial and confronting our own lack of retirement savings (median household retirement account balance: $127,000), developing a written plan or strategy for our retirement (only 14 percent of us have one), or getting help from a professional financial advisor (only 40 percent of us have done so), it’s time for us to take charge of our money. Time is running out. At the very least, we need to think about a backup plan, a “Plan B,” for dealing with an unexpected change or life-threatening situation. Only 26 percent of us have thought about this and created such a plan.
3. Talk more. We’re all in this together — workers, employers and families. It appears that only 9 percent of us regularly discuss retirement savings and planning issues with our family and friends. I was surprised to read the TCRS statistics, but it appears that we just don’t want to admit to the fact that we are getting older, and that things are going to change. We don’t have to look at this as “doom and gloom.” We can look at it as an opportunity. Let’s not forget to engage our employers in these conversations, too. If they are willing to value us for our experience, knowledge and wisdom, they should be willing to work with us to address our concerns about providing appropriate benefits. After all, it is in everyone’s best interest to support a healthy, happy, well-managed, and productive workplace.
Many Boomers have grown embittered over the past decade, and our generation took a particularly big hit during the Great Recession. While it is encouraging to hear that employers may turn out to be more receptive and welcoming to us as longer-term workers, and supportive of our career goals, we need to take the initiative. We cannot sit back and expect employers to make the first move. We cannot act entitled, and rest on our laurels. We need to take primary responsibility for charting and implementing our own course, and achieving the kind of “second act” or encore career that we want.