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The Ever-Changing Landscape of Retirement: From Phased to the Gig Economy

December 11, 2017 by Tracy Grajewski

The notion of retirement has changed for those of us over 50. No one I know under that age anticipates a 30-plus year career in the same company. Come to think of it, that sounds more like a sentence than a goal, anyway!

Phased retirement started to look pretty good to me about three or four years ago – a time I like to call Pre-tirement. (I borrow this term from a friend of mine whose husband actually threw her a “Pre-tirement party!”)

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While I was blessed with a long and delightful corporate career, I knew I wanted to contribute in a less structured way as we became empty-nesters. Though I haven’t done any formal data collection on the subject, I was surprised to find that hundreds of people I spoke with in my co-hort were also talking crazy like me! All wanting a change later in their career but not in the form of a full-blown retirement.

What is going on?

For the first time in history, there are five generations in the US workplace, all with vastly different understandings of work, social hierarchy, technology, and global collaboration. And with human knowledge doubling every 12 months or less – with some reporting that that will soon be shortened to a mere 12 hours! – our reliance upon the “tried and true” work structures, processes, and expectations of the past must change as well.

And that change must come quickly.

Technology, for example, has significantly and permanently altered our work and social lives, mostly for the better, I believe. Information is now widely accessible (goodbye “knowledge is power”) and connectivity is more reliable than ever. We can work in different places in different ways. And anyone who has ever worked in a global corporation can tell you that collaborating virtually does, in fact, work!

Finally, all of the harping on retirement savings may have actually yielded results for some, as the last of the corporate pensions and “cradle to grave” employment scenarios dwindle.

With so many generations in the workforce, it’s now more important than ever to understand the differences between the generations while also figuring out ways for individuals to work together, creating complex and diverse teams in the process.

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To start to get a feel of these differences, let’s see how the generations think about work:

The Baby Boomers, who paid their dues and rose through the hierarchy, aren’t quite ready to just “go quietly” to make room for everyone else. They’ve sacrificed a lot and earned their positions in the corner offices or cubes by the window. They were also socialized to see work as defining personal purpose and identity. Boomers are living significantly longer, healthier lives than their predecessors, allowing them to work longer than the traditional retirement age (65-years-old).

Also, Boomers are desperate to stay relevant and mentally sharp, however, they want to work differently. They are increasingly open to alternative work arrangements like voluntary retirement, phased retirement or work as a “loaned executive” as means to give back to their higher purposes.

At the other end of the generational spectrum, the first explorers of Generation Z are planting their flags on the shores of the workplace. These digital natives are very global in perspective, constantly sensing the vast information environment around them, adjusting and contributing. They are naturally curious and are constantly adapting and learning based on what they experience. They are self-reliant, yet expect collaboration and a voice in decision-making. These expectations are in sharp contrast to those of that 20-year-old who entered the workforce in the 1970’s or 80’s.

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And what of the generations in between? X-ers and the often studied (and somewhat unfairly maligned) Millennials also exhibit expectations, tendencies, and workplace behaviors shaped by their experiences. They have been raised with technology, seen recessions, a rise in terrorism, the good and bad of social media, etc. They are independent, informed, and collaborative. But they don’t take anything for granted.

Can all of this generational energy and talent be reconciled and harnessed to the benefit of business? HR professionals faced with seismic shifts in the demographics and motivations of the workforce must take the lead although they cannot be the sole-proprietors of making new paradigms work.

Let’s explore some Big ideas on how work could change:

No more hard stops! Re-thinking compensation and benefits plans can accelerate workforce change. For example, programs that enable phased retirement meet the needs of all parties. Phased retirement facilitates knowledge transfer and mitigates the risk of “brain drain” when senior, experienced employees leave without much lead time. And valued, senior employees are likely to stay actively engaged and enjoy a flexible work format that works for them.

Idea inclusivity as the norm. This generational melting pot is a perfect environment to introduce concepts like forward and reverse mentoring, crowd sourcing, etc. where every employee’s contribution is sought, valued, and where learning thrives. We need the tech natives. How many other Boomers (and even X-ers) rely upon their teenagers to configure their mobile devices at home?!? At the same time, more senior workers can provide business wisdom and mentoring to the younger generations. It can, and should, be a win-win.

Incent the right behavior. Both informal and formal reward systems should incent, celebrate, and elevate successes so that adoption of new collaboration and workplace paradigms grow. By courageously driving these changes, the corporation will become more agile, inclusive, and relevant.

Make it real. The HR profession has been talking about workforce planning for years. Data and analytics have become more democratized and available without the help of the IT department. Data is captured, reported, sliced, and diced to death. Now, HR must act to influence and create innovative work programming to enable our businesses to thrive.

Make every work environment a “startup.” Make roles broad and less defined. Give everyone the chance to give input. Create work-spaces that foster transparent knowledge sharing, fluid movement among teams, and constant personal development.

Collaboration is king (or queen). Drive new norms and create collaboration forums through physical work-space and technology. Make it simple and natural to collaborate.

Release the hostages! I’m not suggesting a mass exodus of the non-believers, however, changing the mindset of the organization will take time and not everyone will be inclined to make this journey. For those who cannot move to the new paradigms, offering career transition coaching and voluntary exit incentives or voluntary retirement will help to accelerate the shift. There is nothing worse than trying to pull along or work around the “captively disengaged.”

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Personal experience with change suggests that the workforce divides itself into thirds – one third is early-adopting, one third has decided never to adopt, and the third in the middle is yours to change with a compelling reason and vision. Knowing this frees our thinking about who to focus on retaining and who to help and empower to explore their next passion.

It is an exciting time to be in the world of work. The collaboration of individuals with such diverse generational, social and technological perspectives can accelerate an organization’s innovation and growth. Understanding and embracing the changes in the workforce and workplace represents unprecedented opportunity to build organizations for tomorrow.

Want to learn more about the everchanging world of retirement and how you can help your staff navigate it? Schedule a demo with Careerminds today!

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Tracy Grajewski

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