Baby boomers haven’t been in the spotlight like this for, well, a generation. The “OK Boomer” meme has catalyzed a new wave of criticism, suggesting boomers are out-of-touch, spoiled and resistant to change. They are accused of fundamentally misunderstanding millennials who are forced to deal with the societal mess that boomers have, in part, created: spiraling student loan debt, general economic instability and, of course, a warming planet.
But employers and business leaders should take a minute and put themselves in the boomers’ shoes. Many are feeling a creeping sense of anxiety and powerlessness as they face retirement. Despite years of diligent saving, trends outside of their control have taken a toll on their 401(k)s, investments and other nest eggs. Those with target dates after 2020 have lost more than 30% of their value . Many boomers, who are between 55 and 73 , will be unable to get that back on track before they expect to leave the workforce. Compounding this disappointment, their remaining savings are being eaten away by inevitable medical costs, which are expected to surge to $6 trillion by 2027.
Many will be forced to continue to work long past their hoped-for retirement date and turn to their kids for financial support or to credit cards to cover their costs. It is no wonder the proportion of over-65s filing for bankruptcy has increased fivefold in the last 25 years .
According to the U.S. Department of Labor, “by 2024, nearly 1 in 4 people in the labor force are projected to be age 55 or over.” The DOL credits this to factors like increasing life expectancy and financial concerns. The U.S. Government Accountability Office reports that 48% of households aged 55 or older have no retirement savings.
Opportunities may not be plentiful for higher-paying management jobs due as much to ageism and poor adjustments to the demands of the new workplace as anything else, but there may be human rewards in new kinds of jobs. Emily Allen, AARP’s senior vice president for programs reportedly told Business Insider , “I think [we’re] helping older workers adapt to the fact that it’s not going to be a traditional job perhaps that will make you financially secure.” She added, “Increasingly there’s going to be more and more different ways in which you generate income.”
Further, Yahoo Finance, reporting on Bureau of Labor Statistics data, referred to 2020 as the year of the boomer, considering this workforce segment is outpacing growth in all other age ranges. “Nearly 20% of Americans ages 65 and older were employed or actively looking for work in 2019, an increase from only 10% in 1985.”And, part-time work may become even more prevalent, which could present another alternative to Boomers coming to grips with working for their living longer than they expected to. Adds Yahoo Finance, “Companies may allow employees greater flexibility such as telecommuting, part-time employees, outsourcing and gig-style jobs.”
Employment is going through its most profound upheaval in decades. Five million manufacturing jobs disappeared between 2000 and 2018 , and many boomers are struggling to find a place in the new knowledge economy. Fearing that a robot might take your job is stressful and agonizing, and that threat is faced by blue- and white-collar workers alike in finance, technology and administration.
Employers that care about retaining boomer talent in the face of an ageist society should take a leaf out of the travel industry’s playbook. There, travel agents, who have been massively displaced by direct booking, have been given ready access to retraining opportunities and ongoing learning opportunities. That isn’t just kind — it is smart business for any company wanting an agile workforce.
Many boomers who are working are facing all trepidation while also managing closer-to-home family anxieties. Older workers have older parents, and that often means the demand to provide them healthcare. All of that takes time, money and dedication — but the creeping pressure to continue working to fund their own retirement can force them to choose between their parents and their work.
To many boomers, spending their 50s and 60s competing with younger workers for the same jobs and worrying about having insufficient capital to make for a stress-free retirement will, at the very least, make for an uncomfortable decade. Employers can help — and they should. More companies should offer flexible work packages that afford care time and resources. More than that, elder-care packages — potentially incorporating professional home visits, assisted living and healthcare delivery — are now on offer through employee benefits programs, representing a ripe addition for by employers who still value boomer employees.
While the disconnect caused by the generation gap may never go away, awareness and empathy can help bridge the divide and alleviate ongoing struggles.