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Understanding the Silver Tsunami – Aging and the Workplace


Understanding the Silver Tsunami – Aging and the Workplace

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In deep ocean waters a Tsunami is just a ripple on the water’s surface, but when the water shallows, the wave increases in size. The ripples of an aging work force should concern us all, especially when it may be our own actions creating the wave!

Myth #1: Older workers are slow, less productive and not quality oriented.

David Kelly is with the Southwest Washington Agency on Aging & Disabilities. His class focused on dispelling several myths about employing seniors. Obviously Myth #1 is false, The National Council on Aging (NCA) found 97% of employers with older workers think they’re “thorough” and “reliable”.

I am not new to studying the affects of an aging work force–hence my interest in the class. As far back as high school I have had an interest in the effects of agism on American Society. From my observation, we have cause for concern.

In the book Generations, the authors defined seven generations as follows:

Lost Generation (1883 – 1900)

Greatest Generation (1901 – 1924)

Silent Generation (1925 – 1942)

Baby Boomer (1943 – 1960)

Generation X (1961 – 1981)

Generation Y (1982 – 2001)

Generation Z (2001 – )

Myth #2: Older workers quit more often.

Nope. NCA & 9to5 National Association of Working Women show an 88% lower turnover rate in baby boomers compared to Gen Y’s & Gen X’s.

The class moved into a discussion about technical competence. Gen X & Y are more adapt at using computers, but the general consensus in the class were Baby Boomers had the mental edge. Reacting to business changes favors experience.

Yes, there is a health care cost issue, but reality is such that Baby Boomers are needing to work longer. Business Entrepreneurs would be wise to seek seniors if for no other reason than self preservation.

In the areas of customer service, business ethics, and work pace, Baby Boomers still out perform the younger generations.

Myth #3: Older workers cost more to pay & insure.

True…sort of! Some of the studies show the most costly person to insure is a 30 year-old with two dependents. When surveyed, 90% of Fortune 400 bosses felt the ROI of hiring mature workers was high. While some surveys among small business found a lowered acceptance of older workers, I feel we should all take an active role in welcoming seniors in the work place.

At the ripe old age of 40, I doubt I will get to retire until my 70’s. If we create a culture of putting Baby Boomers out to pasture, then I may age out of my job in 15 to 20 years. Yikes!

Here are some numbers…brace yourself–these numbers are important to making my point.

Looking at the US Census projections for two age brackets: 18 to 64 and 65 years and over, it is important to note the swing.

In 2010 the 18-64 age bracket will make up 63% of the US population while the 65+ bracket account for 13% of the total population. In 2030, those projections become 57% and 19% respectfully.

The younger generation will shrink (percentage-wise) while the senior generation will grow. In real numbers. The 18-64 group will total 194.7 million in 2010 and 213.5 million in 2030. This is an 8.8% total increase. The 65+ age group will grow from 40.2 million in 2010 to 72 million in 2030–almost doubling in size.

We already know the impact of an 8% unemployment rate. 77 years ago our nation was suffering from a 25% unemployment rate. With projections suggesting we all will need to work into our 70’s, what will be the unemployment rate in 2034 when I (hope to) turn 65

At 65 and looking for a job, someone from Generation Z will probably be interviewing me. If we do not create a culture of hiring seniors right now, then Generation Y will be unaccustomed to hiring older people and that bias will be passed down to Generation Z.

My point may be self serving, but as Smith pointed out in the “Invisible Hand” theory, “an individual pursuing his own self-interest tends to also promote the good of his community.”

We cannot stop the wave, the ripples are already showing on the surface, but we can deepen the foundation of the shoreline and lessen the impact of the Silver Tsunami.

Ed Bejarana

Editor, East Portland Chamber of Commerce Business Blog

Reference Links:

Age Wave

Invisible Hand

Bureau of the Census

National Council on Aging

9to5, National Association of Working Women

Southwest Washington Agency on Aging & Disabilities

Source by Ed Bejarana


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