Implications Of An Older Workforce

I stumbled across this article in The Atlantic talking about the number of older workers surpassing younger workers for the first time. It’s really not a surprise. Many baby boomers are having to postpone retirement because they’re still feeling the impact of the Great Recession. While the economy is getting better, let’s not kid ourselves…for many, there’s still a lot of catching up to do.

I’m really surprised that business isn’t talking about this a bit more.

We need young professionals in the workforce. Not just for their fresh thinking and ability to move up the corporate ladder. The economy needs people to do all the stuff that happens when we’re young: buy or rent places to live, decorate homes, take vacations, fall in love, marry or move in with someone. If young professionals are unemployed or underemployed, those options are limited.

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Meanwhile, organizations must recognize that older workers will retire someday. Maybe not next week or next month. Maybe not even next year. But at some point, they will retire and companies should be ready. Plans need to be in place to capture the knowledge of this soon-to-be retiree. Companies should identify the new keepers of historical knowledge and create transition plans for the transfer of those stories, antidotes and information that is essential to remember.

Conversations about our workforce shouldn’t focus on debating who’s better – older or younger workers. Every person regardless of age brings their talents to the company.

That’s why you’re hiring them. What’s important to recognize is if your company has a lot of older workers, are you prepared for the wave of them retiring? Do you know where to find the talent to replace them? And, is there a plan in place to get them the knowledge they will need to succeed?

And what happens if the person thinking about retiring is a senior level executive?

Think about how long it takes to become a fully functioning productive employee in your company. I know organizations that say it can take as much as a year to really be exceptionally productive. That means an organization needs to hire someone one year before a person retires. Which begs the question – are employees giving you a year’s notice they are going to retire? Hmmm…probably not.

Businesses need to regularly have this conversation and put measures in place to deal with it. Or they run the risk of being desperately out of talent when they need it the most.


  1. Bill Hargrove says

    Some good points to be applied for strategic HR. We are always asking how to get a seat at the executive table, this is one clear path. BTW, while the antidote should be anecdote, the miss-applied word made me smile becomes sometimes we are looking for the antidote for some of our staff!

  2. says

    @Andy – Thanks for sharing!

    @Bill – Thanks for the comment. It wasn’t an intentional use of antidote but it does work out nicely. 😉

  3. says

    Sharlyn – love the perspective about the importance of young professionals in the workplace for economic reasons. It takes the debate away from which generation is more important organizations and brings it to a much higher macro economic level. Moreover any organization that isn’t focused on building bench strength now to mitigate future risk re: talent, could fall short on commitments to all stakeholders – employees, customers and investors. Great guidance as always.

  4. says

    Thanks for the comment Connie. I get that generations are different but I think it’s driven by the times we live in versus the years we were born. I’m certainly going to have a different perspective than today’s college grads. For example, I remember typewriters. ha.ha.

  5. Joe Carbone says

    Where I work our staff is matching new and experienced employees with tasks and projects to mesh the best of both. There are opportunities to learn history, patience, and wisdom as well as the new and different. Seats at the executive table -make room because we’re bringing in the new and the experienced for that presentation. This contributes to employee engagement and to our succession planning. We attract the best and that just makes the whole thing keep on going. We’re learning.