Aging Boomers Require Workplace Flexibility, Says American Management Association

By Ed Frauenheim

Apr. 12, 2007

For Ed Reilly, the coming demographic shift in the U.S. workforce is elementary. Or rather, it is summed up by his experience decades ago in a Bronx, New York, elementary school. Reilly, president of the American Management Association, was born in 1946 along with other early members of the baby boom generation. There were 60 children in his first-grade class, compared with just 13 kids the previous year. The aging of this generation requires careful planning and flexible management by employers, Reilly says. He recently spoke with Workforce Management staff writer Ed Frauenheim.

Workforce Management: Why should companies care about demographic changes?

Ed Reilly: There’s no question that over the next several years, the group of people who are 30 to 45 years old will assume the management positions in America, and this group is smaller in number than the baby boomers. There are 10 to 15 million fewer people in the younger cohort compared with the baby boomers. Over the next 15 years, this cohort will reach 45 to 60 years of age. They’ll be running the economy. Not only that, but you have the attitude among people who are baby boomers that they may not want to retire. And you have younger people entering the workforce. We’re likely to have a situation where we’ve got three generations in the workforce at once.

WM: Some observers have sounded alarms when it comes to the aging boomers and a possible problem of too few workers.
We need to recognize that it can be solved. One of the ways you’re going to solve that problem is to keep older workers. The way to do that is consistent with other trends such as less rigid hierarchies in operations and more flexibility with respect to where people work, how work happens and when it happens. Organizations also should make sure they understand attitude differences between generations. Think about your benefits system and the way compensation is done. Make sure they’re relevant to the appropriate age group and what motivates them.

WM: What about the prospect of older people working as part-time executives?
Flexibility is more difficult for people in the most senior assignments. Some jobs are just 70-hour-a-week jobs. It will be interesting to see whether we can develop an appropriate set of alternatives to the paths of senior executives and allow the recycling of managers into jobs that are not the CEO post.

WM: What will demographic changes mean for younger workers?
Those people are going to be the eventual managers. They will be as interested in keeping older workers as older workers today are interested in figuring out how to work with the younger generations.

WM: When do you plan to retire?
I plan to work in some capacity for a long, long time.

Workforce Management, March 12, 2007, p. 6Subscribe Now!

Ed Frauenheim is a former Associate Editorial Director at Human Capital Media and currently works as Senior Director of Content at Great Place to Work. He is a co-author of A Great Place to Work For All.

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