Below is part one of a three-part series that Total Retail Executive will be publishing over the next three weeks.
Within the last two years, there has been a proliferation of analysis about millennials and what motivates them, how they perform in the workplace and what their impact is on workforce culture. This always includes mention of the challenges of managing millennials, particularly if the managers are baby boomers or the post-boomer generation. Millennials, those who come after and those who come before, are the new reality of “living” in corporate society.
Some argue that the various generations struggle to coexist in the workplace, but we're presenting a different perspective. We believe that multigenerational workforces can be much more innovative and creative as long as they're able to manage creative tension and empower and engage disparate employees. However, to do this, companies must be aware of what motivates and excites these diverse employees of varied age groups.
The ‘50-Plus’ Group
For those in their 50s or older, we have the benefit of living in times where age seems to keep moving to a younger point. Most of this group remains active — they're exercise fanatics obsessing over foods that are healthy and lifestyles that are more balanced. Each decade seems to be labeled with a reference to the “new” something. Recently we read that “70 is [now] the new 50.” And if our 80-year-old pilates companion is any indication, the continuum will keep on moving.
This age group offers an oft-dismissed wealth of knowledge and experience. In fact, contrary to earlier belief, the labor pool is aging as individuals stay active longer. What does this mean? It implies that an invaluable knowledge base may soon be lost if something isn’t done to "plug the brain drain.” Hence, an even more cogent understanding that the “older” employee not only continues to add value, but the loss of the older employee is a liability the workforce cannot allow.
A Nov. 26, 2016 Wall Street Journal article titled “Five Myths About Landing a Good Job Later in Life” tackles prevalent myths and misconceptions about working later in life and supports this argument. Because the U.S. economy has shifted from manufacturing to services, more positions are dependent on developed cognitive skills rather than physical ability and “brute strength.” Experience is a critical factor that may give older workers a cognitive skill advantage over younger ones. Past experiences will give the over 50 group more knowledge to draw from when tackling problems, challenges and looking for solutions. Being innovative in using past experience is, however, key. Generally, baby boomers are better educated than previous generations of older workers.
There's less of a gap between this group and the younger workforce. According to Harvard economists Claudia Goldin and Lawrence Katz, in 1990, 65-year-olds had an average 11.5 years of schooling, or 1.8 years less than the 13.3-year average for 25-year-olds. By 2010, older adults had an average 12.6 years of education vs. 13.9 for 25-year-olds. Taking this to its logical conclusion, the argument to be made is that this gap will shrink to just six months by 2030, according to Harvard Medical School Prof. Nicole Maestas.
Further research from Maestas reveals that 40 percent of people who retire take a break and then return to work, typically within two years. As the U.S. has shifted to a more service work basis, employees have found it easier to take time off and “reboot.”
"Blue-collar work is typically more demanding and physical skills probably deteriorate faster than the interpersonal and knowledge-based skills that are more prevalent in services and white-collar work,” said Michael Giandrea, a research economist for the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Research shows there's little to no relationship between age and job performance. In jobs that require experience, studies show that older adults actually have a performance edge. Other studies show that experience actually offsets physical and cognitive decline. It's all about trade-offs and making these generational differences work to the organization’s advantage.
“Wisdom doesn’t just help basic job performance; it makes older workers into valuable role models for younger employees," says Brian Fetherstonhaugh, chairman and chief executive of OgilvyOne Worldwide. "Older workers who spend time mentoring, lecturing, consulting, advising and teaching can make a ‘huge contribution.’"
Two other realities of the older workforce are that more work full time than part time, and many continue to pursue entrepreneurial interests with an almost renewed vigor. Most part-time workers in the over 50 category do so by choice, not necessity.
And when one looks at the statistics, individuals aged 55 to 64 represent 24.3 percent of entrepreneurs who launched businesses in 2015, up from 14.8 percent in 1996. Contrast this with workers aged 20 to 34. For this group, 25 percent launched startups in 2015 vs. 34 percent in 1996. The data suggests that the U.S. entrepreneurship boom might be related more to age and time than simple creativity or youthful exuberance.