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by Phil Stott | August 06, 2009


Of all the problems thrown up by the ailing economy, an agingworkforce is certainly one of the smaller ones, but for those in leadershippositions, recognizing its effect on the next generation of talent is likely tobe key in retaining that talent beyond the new retirement dates of their moreexperienced employees.

Back when the financial crisis hit, it didn't take a geniusto figure out that the implosion of the stock market would force many workersto delay retirement in an attempt to make up for the lost value in their 401(k)accounts. See?

Now we're beginning to see just how big an effect thatphenomenon is having on the makeup of the workforce: a recent survey of workersaged 62 and over by Golden Gateway Financial found that the percentage planningon retiring before 70 dropped from 67 percent before the crisis to 40 percent.The math I've attempted for figuring out how many people that actually meanswill be staying on in the workforce beyond retirement age is a little fuzzy,but it's safe to say that it's in the millions. (It's perhaps as high as 10million, based on the unlikely event of the 27 percent shift affecting all 38million projected citizens in 2010 aged between 60 and 74.)

The ramifications of that are startlingly clear for theworkforce, and, depending on your perspective, it's not all bad news. For onething, talent and experience will drain from the workforce at a much slowerrate than previously expected—certainly no bad thing given the panic prior tothe recession over the impending loss of the baby boomers and their attendant skillsets from the workplace.


Recognition that the skill set thing goes two ways iscrucial; just as it is important to retain experienced employees with deepknowledge of their positions, companies and industries, it is vital that thosesame employees are also capable of keeping up with the shifting times andtechnologies. In an example of the sort of mechanism that's likely to becomemore common as the workforce continues to age, TheWall Street Journal reported earlier this week that IBM has seen a rise in "reversementoring" since implementing an online mentoring tool in December 2008.While many employees have used the tool to find traditional mentoringarrangements, the Journal reportsthat many senior employees are using it to find younger colleagues who canteach them about issues such as social networking.


All those factors point to good news for leaders in hiringpositions in years to come, if not for those seeking employment. Therelationship between higher levels of competition for positions and a moreproductive, creative workforce is already well established. The IBM examplesuggests a new trend that we're likely to see more of as time progresses,however: an unprecedented level of collaboration between people at differentstages of their careers, as those closer to retirement age face up to theprospect of trying to succeed in a new environment populated increasingly by"digital natives."

Where leaders will need to be careful is in recognizing that,while age and experience are valuable, and inter-generational collaborationpriceless, workers at all stages of their careers will still feel the need tobe recognized for their contributions. The tendency in any organization is tohave the people with the experience (older workers) in more advanced positions.Under the emerging system—with mentoring relationships becoming two way streetsand slower natural attrition at the higher end of the career cycle—companieswill have to work harder to ensure that younger workers don't feel stifled interms of career progression. That's especially important for those who may havebeen in line for promotions prior to an older colleague's economy-enforceddecision to stay on.


Filed Under: Workplace Issues

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