Are the Golden Years Truly Golden?

October 19 2017 | by Kristi Weierbach, Ph.D., SPHR, SHRM-SCP, FPC

While recently attending the PSMJ Thrive Conference in Denver, I noted the prevalence of generational-themed discussions. Succession planning, demands on employers, understanding the impact of the departing baby boomers, aging millennials, and the arrival of the post-millennials are all popular topics. According to CNN, there are nearly 80 million baby boomers who have begun to exit the workforce, with experts projecting a significant decline around 2030. With less than 70 million Generation X employees to assume the vacancies left by boomers, the 80+ million Millennial generation will need to consider some of the responsibility. This generational gap places a considerable burden on employers as they plan for their future workforce. However, it’s not only employers who struggle when it comes to retirement, but it can be the most challenging time of an employee’s career.

To Work or Not to Work

The idea of retirement sounds lovely – it’s a time in your life when you are no longer forced to adhere to the demands of a work schedule and spend more time doing what you love. However, the rising cost of living, escalating healthcare costs, and/or diminishing retirement funds make enjoying the golden years almost impossible for many that fall within the retirement age.

On the way home from my conference, I ate breakfast at one of the airport restaurants. Greeted by a woman who appeared to be in her mid-70s, I found it amazing that she chose to spend her days serving tables and being on her feet for hours at a time. I wondered, is she working because she enjoys the job, or is it because her financial situation requires it?

Then on my plane, I encountered another woman of the same approximate age. As snack service started, she served crackers and peanuts to each passenger referring to them as “pumpkin pancakes,” “biscuits and gravy,” “French toast” etc. She was clearly having fun while she worked, yet the question still hung in the air, did she work because she wanted to or because she needed to?

Hard Decisions Made Easier

As more of our employees consider retirement, the decisions they are making impact much more than whether they continue to work every day. It’s an area that for many can be emotional, making it even more critical for employers to use compassion and understanding when navigating such a delicate topic. As employers, we can make a difference in the lives of our most seasoned employees during this critical time in their lives. How do we do that? Through an approach that incorporates empathy, support, and education.

Some employees may be excited about planning for retirement, while others are petrified. There may also be some employees who realize that retirement is simply not an option. No matter which direction they follow, critical decisions will need to be made. As employers, we can make this period less stressful by helping to guide them through the maze of healthcare, Medicare, and financial outcomes. For a more nitty-gritty look at the challenges of an aging workforce, watch our on-demand webinar on Seamlessly Transitioning the Aging Workforce. We’ll help you learn how to best support those in your organization who are planning their next chapter.

One Comment

Michael S. Ellegood, PE

I am in my late (very late) ’70’s and still work as a consultant for PSMJ Resources teaching project management skills mostly to Public Works folks. I enjoy it though being on your feet and engaging with the audience is tiring work. I think that the mental stress is a healthy stress and I credit this experience for keeping me young and engaged.


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