Monday, February 14, 2011

The Silver Tsunami - part #2

Walk around many offices on any given day and one will see quite a bit of white hair, wrinkles, and even some balding men! As the customer base has aged, so has the work force. And this is causing all sorts of challenges.

First, we have two problems hitting the aging workforce at the same time. In some industries, there is a strong incentive to retire and to retire soon. Some hope this will result in a savings because older workers cost more than younger workers. Nevertheless, the incentive programs to get older employees to retire sooner than later can initially be quite costly.

With some older workers leaving the work force or being encouraged to retire, we also run into the problem of a massive brain drain. With white hair, usually comes some perspective, wisdom, and lessons learned. There also comes some clarity about why certain things work the way they work. Quite regularly now, I listen to older employees explain how a certain system was built or problem was solved 10+ years ago to the amazement and illumination of everyone in the room. This loss of perspective will cause many problems at a strategic and operational level. Some people retiring should be put on retainer so, when needed, their wealth of experience and knowledge can be tapped to solve new or emerging problems. They also could be valuable mentors for up and coming new people.

The other problem with the aging work force is that many 50+ year olds can not afford to retire. Their long term savings were wiped out in the whole September 2008 affair. Thus, they are going to be working for a very long time, especially if they need healthcare benefits.

This aging workforce translates into many people not being able to be upwardly mobile in the work place. Senior people will stay in order to rebuild their retirement savings. Mid-level managers who want to become senior leaders can not find a space to continue their career. Therefore, supervisors can not become mid-level managers, and so forth. This new “glass ceiling” is very demotivating for young workers who have excelled at climbing up the proverbial corporate ladder in a relatively short period of time. Now, many have complained to me in private: “When is that old person just going to move on? Isn’t it time?” The answer for many older workers will be “no” and for many younger workers the wish will be “please go and go now.”

When we step back and look at the problems of an aging workforce, we realize that there are major strategic elements in play. From succession planning to service delivery continuity, from career management to financial resource management, the Silver Tsunami is not going away. This week plan to discuss these issues at your next strategic review. It is a problem that will grow in magnitude during the coming years.

Geery Howe, M.A. Consultant, Executive Coach, Trainer in Leadership, Strategic Planning and Organizational Change Morning Star Associates # 319 - 643 - 2257

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