Part 1: Boomers Building a New Life Stage

There was a wonderful article in the Chicago Tribune titled, “A ‘new self’ at 86.”  Lois Weisberg resigned from her job as Chicago’s Cultural Commissioner last year and is now using her considerable creativity to reinvent her career.  For many years, Lois was the “grand dame of Chicago culture” and “one of the most influential women to serve in local government.”  And while you may not know her personally, you know her work.  She was the creative energy behind Cows on Parade along with many other wonderful cultural events in Chicago.  But when she walked out the door, “she felt that she had lost not just the job, but herself too.  Because, truthfully, her job had been her life.”

We know, transitions are difficult; especially the ones that occur as we move from full-time employment into … well, something else.  We used to call it retirement.  But with longer life expectancies and improved health, more seniors have decided that retirement doesn’t suit them anymore.  They would prefer to remain active and on the job.  Yes, the recession has certainly led them to re-think retirement dates.  But not significantly.  According to a new MetLife study they may delay by 2-3 year years.  What they (boomers) know is that they just don’t want to be employed with you anymore and they are ready to get on to a new adventure.  The motivation to remain engaged runs deep … they know that staying engaged contributes to a broader sense of “wellbeing.”

Boomers will be the first generation to fully experience this new life stage – a prolonged period (perhaps 30 years or more) of healthy, active, non-child-rearing years.  This generation is already busy re-conceptualizing these years.  Most still feel young and have a desire to stay engaged.  A recent Gallup poll asked working people about their work preferences when they hit retirement age.  Of those surveyed, 18% said they expect to continue to work full time.  Of those, 1/3 said they would do so because they wanted to.  Sixty-three percent said they would continue to work part-time; with 2/3 saying they would do so because they wanted to, not because they had to.  The AARP Public Policy Institute noted that the employment participation rate for those 65 and older has dramatically increased from 10.8% in 1985 to 17.9% in 2011.

For Boomers, this is not just an economic decision. It’ also a decision about “in what ways they can best spend their time and leverage their skills in a productive way.” But when Boomers remain engaged, there are implications for other generations.  When Boomers hang on to jobs longer, they impact the leadership pipeline, making it difficult for Gen X’ers to find opportunities to lead.  And when they take lower level jobs for which they are over-qualified, they run the risk of displacing younger Gen Y’s.

Where can they best contribute in this new life stage?   And how to do that with traditional employment processes and polices?   In what ways can organizations best engage their Boomers in a discussion about their future?  It starts with a meaningful conversation.