by Donna Kastner
Yes, I sighed heavily when this torpedo was fired in the generational battles.
Alas, when I heard a few narrow-minded Boomers respond with equally divisive remarks, I sighed even more.
This world has plenty of problems to solve and these generational squabbles are distracting us from the more important problem-solving conversations we need to have. No single generation has all the answers, but when we come together for more fruitful and respectful dialogue, that’s when real progress happens.
Before we go any further, a quick look at how we got here.
Our Aging Population
Aging – nobody escapes it. It’s happening to all of us, from the moment we’re born. But longevity, coupled with healthier lifestyles is ushering in new life stages.
In 1900, life expectancy in the United States was 46.3 years for men and 48.3 years for women. By 2000, we added about 30 more years to the life expectancy clock. Looking ahead, experts predict that in the 2030s, life expectancy will easily surpass 90 years.
The 2030s will usher in one more stunning demographic shift. Older people will outnumber children for the first time in U.S. history. According to the U.S. Census Bureau’s projections, by 2034, there will be 77 million people 65 years and older, compared to 76.5 million under the age of 18.
Does it make sense for the largest population segment to sit idle, especially when so many are vibrant, knowledgeable and eager to pitch in? No, but there are new roles we must embrace, as we shift from manager and leader to coach and trusted advisor.
Enter the Modern Elders… aka the YOLD Folks
Modern Elders have priceless legacy knowledge to share with their younger counterparts. They’re too young to be done and they’re craving flexible and fulfilling encore career pursuits.
Keep in mind, everyone gets older, but only some get elder. Diehard traditionalists who are hesitant to learn new technology will likely be counting the days until they retire. We wish them well, but they won’t be catalysts for solving tomorrow’s problems.
In Chip Conley’s best-selling book, Wisdom@Work: The Making of a Modern Elder, he chronicles his own journey from successful entrepreneur to advisor at Airbnb. In this new role at age 52, Conley suddenly found himself surrounded by Millennial colleagues. One thing he noticed – while those age 50+ tended to have an edge on EQ (emotional intelligence), younger colleagues had stronger command of DQ (digital intelligence). This gave way to a mutual mentorship model, where wisdom and knowledge moved in both directions – from older to younger AND from younger to older.
“Young Old” is another new title gaining favor. First coined by the Japanese to describe this vibrant segment in their 60s and 70s, some have gone a step further and shortened this to YOLD.
Happily, YOLD folks are at pivotal moment, as they explore exciting encore career opportunities, but new expectations will be in order. Over time, the traditional career ladder will likely become a graceful arc where salaries peak — then gradually diminish as work and leisure time strikes a more graceful blend.
OK Boomer, Ready to Climb Down the Ladder?
There’s one more thing fueling today’s generational friction. More Boomers are delaying retirement and staying longer in their current jobs, which creates a new problem – Promotion Blockage.
According to a recent USA Today/LinkedIn survey of 1,019 working professional in September 2019, forty-one percent of Millennials said they’ve found it difficult to move up in their fields because Boomers are delaying retirement.
With five generations in the workplace (soon to be six), ignoring these issues isn’t advised. Phased Retirement is one possible remedy some organizations are exploring, where rather than retire, older workers might gradually downshift to supporting roles. Still, this is uncharted territory with more challenges that need to be addressed, but it’s a topic ripe for discussion and brainstorming.
Lifelong Learning Takes Center Stage in a Rapidly-Changing World
Lifelong learning is no longer a luxury – it’s the opening ante to compete. Again, another opportunity for Retirepreneurs to seize, but there are a few adjustments we’ll need to make. Humility, coupled with curiosity about what our younger colleagues might teach us is a start.
Interesting, but as lifelong learning takes center stage, some colleges and universities are struggling to keep up with this new paradigm. As traditional student age populations decline, many are missing the opportunity to help their Modern Elder alumni. Why not come back to the place where you started your career to prepare for this next exciting life stage?
This quote from Future-of-Work strategist Heather McGowan speaks volumes about the tricky road ahead for higher ed:
“The days when you could get a four-year degree or six-year degree and dine out for 35 years on that knowledge? That is so gone in the age of acceleration.”
Happily, there are forward leaning institutions, like the University of Minnesota, blazing new trails for the YOLD with their Encore Transitions program.
Even better, the Stanford Center on Longevity launched The New Map of Life last year, convening a group of experts (engineers, physicians, behavioral scientists, educators, healthcare providers, financial experts, human resource consultants, etc.) to envision what vibrant century-long lives would look like and begin the remapping the processes to support it.
Century-long lives will be something many of our grandchildren will enjoy. Wouldn’t it be great if we took steps now to pave the way for something better for them?
OK Boomer – Let’s do this!