Retirement: The Times They Are A Changin’

(I wrote this article and it was originally published in the York County Coast Star on January 17, 2013)

I recently attended the retirement party of a local executive, and I suspect it will be the first of many. As I surveyed the gathering, I was struck by the “grayness” of the attendees. We are getting old.

 One could reasonably argue that my perspective is a bit distorted. After all, one is likely to mirror your professional colleagues. But in this case, the census corroborates my observations. The first wave of baby boomers has reached retirement and the number of persons 55 and older has increased by 43%. One in eight Americans is 65 or older and that will increase to one in five by 2030.  And the numbers are worse in Maine making our population the oldest in America.

The attendees at the party came from several organizations to honor the new retiree. One company was represented by four of their senior managers—three of whom have announced their own plans to retire within the next three years. In fact, the banter was about who’d get out first. While this made for good fun, it highlights a real business issue that we as a society face: a large number of our workers will be leaving the workforce and few companies are prepared.

A recent survey conducted by the AMA Enterprise showed that one in five companies is utterly unprepared for the sudden loss of leadership and nearly 25% have no succession plan whatsoever. Only 8% maintain comprehensive plans, never mind any kind of method to capture the knowledge of those future retirees as they walk out the door, never to return. With three senior managers leaving this company, nearly a century of experiences and knowledge will soon be lost. This could be devastating for the company.

All organizations, large and small must put plans in place now. This is not a luxury for only the big corporations. It is as essential as having locks on the doors and cash to pay your bills. Most organizations have plans for replacing old equipment or for dealing with the crashing of their computer systems. But when it comes to preparing for an aging workforce and their inevitable departure, little is done. As one executive said to me “the issue hits too close to home, so I’d rather not think about it.” But think he must. Hoping that it will go away is not the solution and frankly, hope is a lousy business strategy.

There was one hint of relief at this festive gathering. Each of the retiree wannabees and the individual we were honoring indicated that they wanted to continue working in the future in some capacity: either as a part-time consultant, or by starting a business, or simply doing something to keep themselves busy. It seems that these boomers are not totally ready to leave the world of work and that may provide an opportunity for business to keep needed workers, albeit in different capacities.

Our workforce is changing, along with how we define retirement. I suspect more change is still on the way. And as it evolves, business must put in place plans to address it. As more than 10,000 baby boomers a day turn 65, a pattern that will continue for the next 18 years, the workplace and even how we do business will be different. The boomers, who have impacted everything in today’s society, are now set to redefine both the world of work and retirement. Dylan nailed it nearly 50 years ago: “the times, they are a changin’.”

What are you seeing in your workplace. Do you have employees preparing to retire and do you have plans to address their loss? Tell us about it in the Comment section below.

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