We live in a unique time. It's getting more and more difficult to predict trends in the labor force. We have Generation Z at one end of the spectrum, the youngest of which are just starting to graduate college and enter the job market (depending on where the generational line is drawn). On the other end, we have the 65-to-74 and 75-and-older demographics, which are expected to grow significantly in the workforce between now and 2024, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).
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Millennials have taken the business media by storm the last couple of years. There's no shortage of articles about how the younger generation demands a good work/life balance from the first days of their first internships and entry-level jobs. But what about the older generations? What's work like for them?
65 Is the New 50
In American society, we tend to think of 65 as retirement age, but as the BLS statistics show, more people are working well past the time when they can start collecting their retirement.
"The biggest reason is probably financial, given the fluid perceptions and realities swirling around Social Security benefits, 401(k) value in shifting markets, and medical care and costs," says Greg Karr, executive vice president at Seven Step RPO. "In general, I think a lot of people know or think that they can't afford to stop working and maintain their desired lifestyle. The extra income, combined with a more robust Social Security benefit if you defer even a couple of years, makes a big difference."
"Also, given an overall supply and demand imbalance in the workforce and shifting workforce characteristics, there is more opportunity for meaningful work – for example, being able to work from home versus having to commute and sit in an office all day," Karr adds. "Lastly, the average life expectancy continues to rise, so people are healthier at 65 and aware that there are a lot of years left. Not working at all from age 65 to age 85+ is a lot of years. Many folks like what they're doing for work and are still valuable contributors. I think some would just as soon keep working and contributing for a few more years, with the knowledge that they'll be better set financially."
Meanwhile the birthrate is increasing again in the United States, millennials hold most of the entry-level and lower management jobs, and Generation Z is hot on everyone's heels, arriving soon to grab up those internships and entry-level spots. As upper management reaches standard retirement age and stays on the job, upward mobility and opportunities for younger generations become limited.
It'll be up to companies to figure out how to integrate both the old and the new to create corporate cultures that appeal to all ages. Employers will also have to find ways to keep valuable employees from leaving when they see that the corporate ladder is too crowded for them to advance as high as they'd like to right away.
"In an environment where the workforce will shift continuously, you need to be able to retain key talent and use a winning culture to attract new talent," Karr says. "This is not a marketing activity, but rather a set of persistently and authentically executed strategies to make your company a great place to work where people like what they do and who they do it with. No matter how the workforce evolves, top candidates always want to work in an environment where they are valued and rewarded for their contributions, where they have a chance to learn and grow, and where they are treated with respect. Structured, plentiful time invested in building and maintaining an environment where people want to work is time well spent."
There is a middle ground to be found somewhere between the suit-and-tie boardrooms of the '90s and the untucked shirts and sneakers of the recent college graduates. Companies that can find a way to appeal to both sides of the coin (and everyone in the middle) will never find themselves struggling to fill open positions.