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Fishers, Indiana, United States
Brenda gained career expertise as a human resources leader at a global company before becoming an HR consultant. She gained functional experience in a variety of sales roles in the health care industry achieving success for over 20 years. Her passion is participating in, writing about and observing the evolving workforce. For the first time in history four generations work together. It keeps things interesting. Baby Boomers (born 1946-1964) are redefining retirement and what it means to age in the workforce. It is not just about money. Okay it plays a role! At 76.4 million members strong, Boomers are leveraging technology to continue their careers and the personal fulfillment working brings. Managing a late-stage career requires more thought than 20 years ago. Unexpected changes in life force us to consider the future. There is no roadmap or one size fits all answer. This blog is about sharing, networking & finding your own right answer to working later, managing your career, redefining retirement, looking for work in your 50s & 60s and reinventing yourself.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Fortune Magazine's Workforce of 2022



The other day my January 16 issue of Fortune Magazine arrived in the mail. I was intrigued because instead of the usual business leader on the cover; it boasted a kind silvery version of Ryan Seacrest and called itself, “The Future Issue”. I devour Fortune like other people read People or US Weekly—which already gives you too much insight into my geeky obsession with business and the workforce. Who doesn’t want to know about the future?  So I dive right into their article on work.

Guess who is in the office of tomorrow in 2022? Their writer says there are going to be old, bald people with “salt-and-pepper eyebrows” and women in “orthopedic shoes” making their way into office buildings.  She goes on to predict, “...new drugs...will enable many people in their sixties and seventies to make the daily trek to an office or factory." When I read this in Fortune (one my favorite business magazines) I wasn’t sure if I should laugh, scream or cry. (Or maybe write a snarky letter to the editor like the one they published from me October 16, 1995—I’ve been reading for a long time). But, it is 2012—so I can put it in a blog post and send it 2,000 of my close friends.

Would it be old and mean of me to think the young lady who authored the article is a student? Because surely if she were in the workforce of TODAY—not the future, she would realize workers in their 50s, 60s and 70s peering at their smartphones through bifocals and bumping up the font on the screen for easier reading (hey, she said it, not me) is here. Maybe they don’t work at Fortune’s editorial offices, so she’s never seen us in action.  Or, and I hear this often—maybe we (older workers) are invisible to her.

Our writer blames the market crash of 2008 for the reason Baby Boomers are going to stay in the workforce and increase from 7.3 million today to 13.2 million workers over 65 in ten years. While there are plenty of people working for financial reasons, some of us choose to work longer. My Mom is 74 and works ten hours a week because she loves her profession. It is an opportunity to stimulate her brain, be around professional people, learn new things (yes, she has a smartphone, can text and use apps) and the money comes in handy too.

I don’t blame the writer for this prediction of “the workforce of future.” Anything that makes it to print in Fortune has been scrutinized by an editor or two and I think that is what worries me more. This type of characterization of older workers is not helpful. At a time when subtle bias against mature workers in some workplaces seeps into the corporate culture before the company has recognized their multigenerational workforce demands attention, Fortune missed an opportunity.

The writer could have easily talked to someone from the Sloan Center on Aging and Work at Boston College (http://www.bc.edu/research/agingandwork/about.html) or AARP (aarp.org) and I can guarantee her article would have taken a different tone.  So I am going to offer some predictions about “what happens to the workplace when seniors don’t leave” which is the question her piece supposedly answers. Visionary companies that integrate age issues into their strategic HR plan are going to have a sustainable competitive advantage. I agree with the Fortune writer that “companies will have to be creative about how they manage a workplace with staffs whose ages could span 60 years.” They do that by addressing the diversity issues a multigenerational workplace presents and it affects all areas of the company: talent management, learning and development, benefits, rewards/recognition and knowledge transfer. Some mature workers are at the “top of their game” considering skill, experience, emotional intelligence and confidence. Companies that minimize or ignore the impact a multigenerational workforce has on today and tomorrow’s corporate culture threatens morale, productivity and business results. Share your comments and let us know what you think.

11 comments:

  1. Brenda, you are so right. This is not helpful to anyone working older in the workplace. Maybe it is time for you to write another letter to the editor. Sounds like its been 16 years.

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  2. Although I haven't read the article in question, I wonder why does the author supposes people in 2022 will GO into an office? I suspect that in 10 years, companies ate going to further address their carbon footprint issue and the idea of an 8-5 environment will disappear (as it it happening now). Meaning people at any age who can use a phone, computer, and other associated technology in a responsible fashion will work. Companies will NEED employees of all ages in this type of working environment. Lastly, as an aside, there are people in their 20's and 30's who fit the description the author has offered. So yes, the workforce of the future will look and will be DIFFERENT.

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  3. First of all - any kind of generalization or label for any specific group damages the whole. Your comment about multigenerational diverse work forces is exactly where we are and will be. But by characterizing the more tenured as they do (what would they say about youngsters rolling in to work after a night on the town, hmmm?) paints a bleak picture for the Fortune up and comer readers. I agree with Tiffany - the workforce will change. But not because the "workinglater" crowd is working later.

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  4. I read the post and I too have not read the artcile in question but I will. So Fortune will get a sale out of this and it is not a magazine I read often. My son forwarded me this link and I am 64 and work full-time with no intention of retiring on my birthday. We were having the discussion on the author focusing on age but there is going to be a lot more ethnic diversity too because the demographics are changing. Luckily, she didn't take any potshots on that or someone would boycott their advertisers. As I get older it amazes me that is almost ok or accepted to stereotype anyone over 50. I also agree with the other comments about working from home. I work from home 2 days a week now and more people will do that too. And health care savings accounts, we have those at my office already.

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  5. I decided to read the article after I read the post. There are many missed opportunities in the workforce of tomorrow if the focus is truly what happens when the Boomers won't retire. The thought that more employee benefit responsibility will fall on employees is one small part of it. Brenda, when I read your post I originally thought you had mistakenly read the Bing column or some other satire in FORTUNE and thought is was serious. Unfortunately, this was written as a serious article-biased, skewed and unlfattering as it may be--the generations in the workforce are going to have to all get along.

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  6. I'm proud to say I've been wearing sensible shoes for a decade or more! Anyway, more "mature" employees would go contract or part time and make much more room for the next generations to run the show if we could retain our health insurance! I like to think I can bend to work with anyone despite our differences in age or personality. It's not easy but that's why they call it work! And what kind of workplace would it be if we were all just alike - age or otherwise- anyway. Pretty boring!

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  7. No one would disrespect a race, the handicapped, an ethnic group, a religion or a sexual preference in the way this writer portrayed older employees. I'm not even over 40 myself--but as a daughter & granddaughter of older people that work every day, I thought the tone was offensive. Betty White, Barbara Walters, Diane Sawyer and other 50+ celebrities are breaking down ageism in the hardest profession of all-Entertainment. Why can't it carry over to Corporate America?

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  8. Brenda, thanks for sharing this with us. I am in career transition, and I know there is age discrmination at work. I have more energy, passion, and enthusiasm for my work now than when I was thirty. I have not slowed up one bit, and I think that is the case for many, if not most, of the older workers. I always enjoy your blogs, keep up the good work.

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  9. I agree with Tim. I am in career transition in my 50s I have more than just the knowledge and technical skills to share with employers--I still have energy, I also have more patience and because my children are now adults I need less personal days for sick child doctor visit, parent/teacher conferences, and other school-age parent events. I am free to travel extensively. I do think when corporate recruiters in their 20s & 30s see someone 50+ walk in the door, they change into defensive mode and create barriers becuase they know the company wants to hire "young" 20s, 30s, not even 40s. I hear it is even hard for 40-year-old veterans to find a job.

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  10. I finally read the article in question. It sadden me that a magazine with Fortune's readership portrayed older workers in that way.

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  11. Brenda, this is wonderful! From where I sit, you are right on target with your comments and concerns. I plan to work until they pry the computer/tablet/or the next new thing from my cold, dead hands! I would like to believe (and yes, I have my favorite rose colored glasses on!) that the corporate folks will mature, pun intended, and see the enormous benefits of the multigenerational make up of their work force. You go girl!

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