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Paul D. Roberts

By Paul D. Roberts

A couple of years ago there was a lot of discussion about “The Silver Tsunami”  – the aging of the Baby Boomers as they turn grey beyond their temples.

The sheer numbers of Baby Boomers (born between 1946 and 1964) have made them a force to be reckoned with all through their existence.  Today, much of the Silver Tsunami discussion is around;

1. How to Pay for the Rising Health Costs and Who is Going to Care for Them.

The older you get the more healthcare you consume on average.

2. How to Pay for Social Security.

With a dubious trust fund, the Social Security system becomes a real-time intergenerational transfer of funds – a difficult social issue when the ratio of retired people to working people continues to rise.

“By 2031, when the youngest boomers will have reached 67, Americans age 65 and older are projected to number 75 million, nearly doubled from 39 million in 2008. The beneficiary-to-worker ratio, which compares the number of people drawing benefits to the number of workers paying into Social Security, will rise from 35 per 100 in 2012 to 46 per 100 in 2030. ” Source National Academy of Social Insurance

3. How to Plan for Executive Succession.

In corporate leadership, we are seeing succession planning and leadership training programs on the rise as leading executives prepare to retire.

4. How to Streamline Top Heavy Organizations:

At the upper management level we are seeing leadership putting early retirement programs in place to help clear out top heavy organizations, which are expensive as the result of the increases in salaries that are expected to come with age.

Where the Unspoken Gap Lies

What we are not seeing much of is addressing the pressing needs of the working white collar Baby Boomers.   There is a large swath of Baby Boomers who are not financially prepared to retire, and they will be part of the workforce for many years to come.

The vast majority of Silver Tsunami white collar workers did not hit the upper management buyouts, nor the financially stable ranks of retiring executives.  The financial decline of the great recession and the paltry return on safe money in the bond markets is pushing more and more of the Baby Boomers to continue as the “working Silver Tsunami”, where working is their only real option.

The Center for Retirement Research at Boston College estimates that 51% of today’s working households are at risk of being unable to maintain their pre-retirement standard of living in retirement, although the numbers are better for older households.  It concludes that “the vast majority of households – more than 85 percent – would be prepared (financially) for retirement by age 70.”

According to Gallup’s 2013 Economy and Personal Finance survey “The average non-retired American currently expects to retire at age 66, up from 60 in 1995.”  Which suggest an underestimation by working households of their financial needs and overoptimistic expectations of when they will actually retire.

So the question for corporate leaders is:

5. How to Adjust for the White Collar Working-Silver Tsunami:

The type of adjustments we are talking about are like BMW’s innovative solutions to adapting its production line for an aging workforce (the video below is worth watching).

And just as the BMW production line needed adjusting for the physical needs of the workforce, so the white collar workforce will need the tools to help them thrive.  There are the office versions of the ergonomic changes that BMW has put in place, but what about the needs of aging minds?

Synectics, Synecticsworld, Innovation Consulting, Art of problem solving, marketing concepts, innovative ideas, innovative solutions, innovative systems, innovation and creativity, leadership consulting, innovation training, cool inventions, creative problem solving process, innovation lab, Collaboration, Innovation, Synectics, synetics, innovation consulting, innovation training, team training, leadership trainingThis workforce has a great deal to offer in terms of experience and the battle scars of wars fought, won and lost, that can help organizations avoid repeating pitfalls.  They also have operational tools and techniques that produce efficiencies similar to those of the BMW production line.

One key challenges will come in dealing with change.  The implied “can’t teach an old-dog new tricks” subtext raises the hair on the back of many necks, but this group does have the creative capacity to tackle the innovation challenges of most organizations, if given the tools.

When I see the bumper sticker “hire a teenager while they still know everything”, it reminds me of one of the tenets of creativity –  “break the rules” – young people have the advantage of not knowing the “rules” they are breaking.  It is the flip side of “been there, done that, it didn’t work”.

A great team will be a mix of these talents, both aware of what is current and relevant, and aware of pitfalls. This type of a team will enable an organization to come up with innovative solutions and be both agile and resilient.

The challenge for the Working Silver Tsunami will be how to get out of their own way, how to hold their experience at bay while they are exploring new possibilities, and then to bring back their wealth of know-how when they are developing and enacting solutions. It is not an easy task, as Daniel Kahneman in his great book Thinking, Fast and Slow illuminated, you need to quieten your existing paradigms to be able open up to new thinking.  And, the older you get the more and stronger “existing paradigms” you need to quieten.  This is a learned and practiced skill, and is also the threshold into creativity and innovation.

As a mass influx of bright young minds, full of technophilia, collaboration, and unbounded thinking bump into the Working Silver Tsunami a bridge between the two tribes will be an essential part of an innovative, agile organization.

What does the new Silver Tsunami white collar production line look like to you?

Create.  Change.


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