Baby boomers – are you leaving a legacy?

The front runners of the Baby Boomer generation are turning 60 and entering a whole new phase “life after 60”. But don’t expect them to maintain the status quo.

Boomers, born in the late 40’s to the late 60’s, arrived into a world torn, shattered and rebuilding. After the tough times of the mid 20’s to mid 40’s, here was the time for a new deal, a time introducing a new world order, a time for optimism, new beginnings and bold new dreams. A generation that was encouraged to think possibility, dream big, go for it and build a whole new future. Boomers have succeeded beyond wildest expectations. The average standard of living, material wealth and lifestyle in Boomer families are superior to their parent’s generation. Boomers have dreamt big, worked hard and achieved.

And Boomers have contributed enormously to the growth and development of organisations. Yes they have been dictatorial, control freaks, exhorting growth in the organization with their visions of what could be. But as time marches on, they continuously try to keep up the pace, but are they still as in touch, relevant and constructive as they used to be? As organisations, are we longing for the day we can ‘pension them off’, modernising our strategies and operations?

And as ‘retirement’ beckons for the Boomers are they excited at the prospect of slowing down, exiting to a quiet retirement village by the sea? Yes, they may desire a more balance lifestyle and to enjoy the fruits of their labor. And yes, a place by the sea sounds good too. But stop working, and move to a cozy retirement estate Рnot likely! They are not going anywhere!!!

Previous generations, notably the ‘Silent Generation’ (born in mid 20’s Рmid 40’s), believed retirement happened to them, something that was owed them after loyal service, and often just in time. Boomers on the other hand are far too active, largely in good health and frankly they don’t want retirement to happen to them. Boomers won’t accept the status quo, they never have. They are bound to return to natural traits, think big, dream of what could be and set out with huge zeal to achieve it. So here are three possible scenarios.

Option 1 – ReTire

Some will choose to retire in the true sense with no desire or need to generate further income, happy that their assets will tide them through, passing away time by relaxing, reading, golf / bowls, visiting family etc. Research suggests that only 7% of people can afford to retire and maintain their current standard of living on a sustained basis.

In reality retirement is an industrial age, Silent generation ‘obligation’ that lost its way and relevance in the second half of the last century. Retirement in its current form is an obsolete concept that is likely, in practice to be formally ‘retired’ within 10 Р15 years. Key reasons for this would include:

  • Cost of retirement – driven by longevity, escalating costs etc
  • Cost of post retirement funding that falls on organisations / pensions funds
  • Global skills shortage
  • Declining birth rates in Europe and USA over the past 30 years has resulted in more people being eligible for retirement than those entering the work force. Yes we have had mechanization to replace much manual labor.
  • But knowledge, skills and wisdom can‚Äôt be computerized and are under threat if boomers retire on mass.
    But above all, our visionary, big thinking, bold Boomers do not want retirement to happen to them!

Option 2 – ReWire

Many Boomers will want to stay in formal world of work for as long as possible, well beyond 65. That’s great, their skills, provided they stay contemporary will be much needed. However the key element is to stay contemporary Рnot just in the technical or professional sense, but more importantly in the style and approach to how work will be undertaken. Boomers will have to acknowledge that ‘Gen X’s’ will soon dominate the world of work, so they will have to be ‘rewired’ to become Gen X compliant. The key challenges will see a move to a less structured, output driven, and more complex world of work. Respect for age and authority doesn’t exist, but respect for who you are and what you contribute will drive credibility.

This is a tough but doable: ask for change-happy boomers.

Option 3 – ReFire

This whole new world of opportunity challenges Boomers, or even younger Silents, to let go of their existing roles, positions and expectations, and restart a whole new career. This may be in the same line or profession they are currently in, but may also be in a totally different field, one they have always wished they were in, or dreamt of one day getting into. Boomers often find themselves forced into this kind of thinking, when they face retrenchment, forced early retirement, or feeling overlooked in the economic transformation of our country.

Similarly ‘ReFire’ offers organisations innovative solutions to unlock the blockages in senior ranks caused by change resistant Boomers, and the simultaneous concern over loss of skills and knowledge. The challenge is to ‘let Boomers go, but simultaneously keep them’.

A proactive, big thinking approach is needed. Organisations need to create a climate of understanding and support for 50 plus Boomers. Similarly Boomers need to signal to the organization their willingness to retire themselves from formal employment, and become a variable source of skills, knowledge and wisdom, at a variable cost to the organization.
A climate of cooperation, trust and mutual respect is crucial.

So why is this ‘right’ for both Boomers and organisations?

  • Boomers have skills, knowledge and technical ability that are still hugely needed, and institutional wisdom gleaned over many years. Organisations need these skills
  • There is a global shortage of skills, and an even more critical situation in South Africa arising, where we are at the tip of the iceberg in terms of the skills shortages to come. Boomers can provide these skills well beyond ‚Äòretirement‚Äô date.
  • Boomers are finding the corporate world becoming more complex, demanding and frankly less pleasurable that it used to be. They need to be released but not lost.
  • Organisations have a new generation of young talented managers, who have qualifications but not always the experience and institutional wisdom of the Boomers, who have the skills and could mentor younger talent.

Yes Boomers, have worked hard and contributed much. Now is the time for them to leave a legacy. It’s time for organisations to let them disengage from the formal corporate world, but encourage them to transfer their knowledge and abilities back to a skills-short world. The skills and abilities they love using that must drive them, not doggedly hanging on to their turf as they wait for retirement, frustrated at having to do the very things they don‚Äôt enjoy, but have to.

So Boomers and Organisations need to consider a ReFire strategy. Boomers have another 15 – 30 years of working life left, but not in its current form. Organisations have huge skills shortages. Jointly they must create opportunities for Boomers to reinvent themselves and their careers, and maybe our looming skills shortage will not be as severe.