The Silver Tsunami: A Follow Up To Yesterday’s Ageism Post

by Michael Haberman on July 8, 2010 · 5 comments


After I wrote my riff (actually more of a rant) on AGEISM I came across a blog post on TomorrowToday’s blog entitled The Silver Tsunami- Managing Older Workers. A very, very interesting blog post. Writer Graeme Codrington talks about the work of Martin Amis and Christopher Buckley who are writers who are entering their silver years and are worried about the costs of an ageing population. He says few people really grasp what is going to occur, especially people in the corporate world. Some of the facts he points out include:

  • “Companies in the rich world are confronted with a rapidly ageing workforce. Nearly one in three American workers will be over 50 by 2012, and America is a young country compared with Japan and Germany. China is also ageing rapidly, thanks to its one-child policy. This means that companies will have to learn how to manage older workers better.”
  • Most companies are remarkably ill-prepared. There was a flicker of interest in the problem a few years ago but it was snuffed out by the recession. The management literature on older workers is a mere molehill compared with the mountain devoted to recruiting and retaining the young.”
  • Companies are still stuck with an antiquated model for dealing with ageing, which assumes that people should get pay rises and promotions on the basis of age and then disappear when they reach retirement.
  • Companies will have to do more than this if they are to survive the silver tsunami. They will have to rethink the traditional model of the career. This will mean breaking the time-honoured link between age and pay – a link which ensures that workers get ever more expensive even as their faculties decline. It will also mean treating retirement as a phased process rather than a sudden event marked by a sentimental speech and a carriage clock.

He gives several examples of companies that are starting to catch on. These companies, like BMW, are making changes to make older workers as productive as younger ones with minor changes.

This blog post is a great follow up to the admonition I gave you yesterday about looking at skills and abilities of older workers. If you have an aging workforce THIS IS REQUIRED READING.

So go off and read this blog post on managing older workers, but be sure to come back and leave your thoughts, ideas or even better yet your programs you have instituted to deal with managing older workers.

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{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

Cyndy Trivella July 8, 2010 at 10:23 am

Hi Mike,

Wonderful article! Thank you for spreading the word on this topic.

What a conundrum! I feel like we’re damned if we don’t and damned if we do. Personally, I love the idea of a phased retirement. It just makes such good business sense. When we just hand over the watch and say bon voyage, all “historical intelligence” is gone with the retiree. Phasing allows a well-designed mentoring program to educate and on-board a successor. However, the conundrum for me is that people are becoming increasingly litigious which puts employers on red alert. IMHO, I believe for an organization to institute such programs, they will need to be across the board and extremely well-defined.

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Barbara A Hughes July 9, 2010 at 7:19 am

Hi Mike,
Really thought provoking, isn't it, that companies will have to "do something" about older workers.
I read something in Jack Fitz-Enz's new book about capability planning in organizations not workforce planning and that resonated with me. If he's right, employers and employees have the opportunity to enter into a new way of thinking about work. As a worker, we have to keep skills fresh and consciously focus on our contribution to business results. The biggest shift is one of no entitlement; no free ride just because you think you've earned it. Employers have to think about segmenting the workforce, much the same as Marketing segments customers to better understand their needs and how to deliver on those. A one-size-fits-all won't be successful.
Most importantly, I think business leaders have to shift away from the paradigm of employee-as-expense to employee-as-contirbutor.

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Michael D. Haberman, SPHR July 9, 2010 at 10:22 am

Cyndy, indeed, the "sue" mentality that we have bred in this country will be a hurdle.

Barbara, what a great response. I like the concept of capability planning versus workforce planning. Which new book is that?

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Lisa Morgan-Aspinwall, SPHR July 9, 2010 at 5:09 pm

I must admit I was shocked by the statement: “This will mean breaking the time-honoured link between age and pay—a link which ensures that workers get ever more expensive even as their faculties decline.” What???

Perhaps this is true in a manufacturing environment, such as the one mentioned in the original blog post. However, the United States is no longer a manufacturing economy; it is a knowledge economy. In a knowledge economy, an individual’s most important “faculty” is his/her brain. Each of us is individually responsible for developing that faculty through continuous learning.

Unless a disease or illness, such as a stroke, takes away the “faculty” of my brain, I do not intend to let it decline. Quite the opposite is true. As a lifelong learner, I intend to continue to increase the “faculty” of my brain. Hiring companies need to stop making assumptions. I would not want an employer to pay me more simply because of my age, especially if I didn’t have the relevant knowledge and skills. However, I also do not want a prospective employer to bypass me as a potential candidate by assuming that my age means I’m in decline.

Mike—Perhaps you, me, and the excellent professionals who are having difficult times finding HR positions (“us”) are in a minority among the “aged.” There are great people out there who fit the way you described yourself: (paraphrased) “I’m smarter than I used to be. I’m a great coach and mentor (and have the associated listening and questioning skills). I have wisdom and courage. (I know that being smart is not just about ‘knowing’ things, and I have the backbone to stand up to the most difficult of employees.) I am business savvy. I am technically savvy. I have successfully implemented HR programs that balance the respect of tradition with innovation. I have tons of experience backed by great ideas, high work ethic, and creativity.”

These are things about “us” that you can verify through effective behavioral interviewing and reference checking. Let us show you how.

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Michael D. Haberman, SPHR July 9, 2010 at 5:34 pm

Lisa:
Great comments. I agree, in today's economy age should not be the determiner of value and thus pay. But in many places in the world (notice spelling of honoured)and in many union situations dollar value is determined by longevity, hence age. I am all for paying on value, value of knowledge, that you bring to the table.

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