By the year 2030, over one third of the population in Germany for instance will be 60+. This is in line with the projections for Europe: nearly 25 percent of people in the European Union in 2030 will be above the age of 65, up from about 17 percent in 2005 according to the Population Reference Bureau.
With an ever-increasing raise in over 60s, we have basically two ways to look at the phenomenon: a burden in cost for care or an opportunity to expand the resource pool of talent beyond the youth craze. After all, it is not just gender or race that diversity initiatives should aim to tackle. Harnessing the wealth of experience that comes with age could add a valuable perspective to team enrichment.
In our extremely volatile business environment talent is key. Getting the right people on board (and almost more importantly keeping them) drives productivity, innovation and margins. Across the developed world, companies are fiercely competing for the same prototype: the 20+ tech savvy intrapreneur (ideally with 30 years of experience), self-directed, intrinsically motivated and ‘always on’.
Recruitment, retention and the workplace itself thrives on endless research on ‘Gen Y’, ‘Gen Z’ and ‘Gen whatever the next acronym will be’. If only we could clearly define what drives the next generation of knowledge workers we could re-shape incentives policies to make sure they come to us, bring all their university friends and stay forever.
Workplaces, as a result, look more and more like a mix between a designer show room and a playground. No office is complete without a token slide, climbing frame, game zone and the omnipresent table football.
But like salaries - if everybody offers the same - a hip office will not remain a distinguishable feature for long, and, more importantly, not be an environment that suits everybody.
Keeping in mind that the only crowd that’s growing is the 55+ soon-to-be-retired gang, that gets fitter each year and is hiring retirement coaches to re-invent themselves, there might be a latent win-win scenario worth exploring.
Even those who have the means to chase after a merry life of sun, golf and total freedom soon figure out that an unscripted day is hard to fill and the ‘I am retired’ answer at the cocktail party is not necessarily a great conversation starter.
As the middle-age life span becomes longer and more productive, people are increasingly on the search for meaning, purpose and relevance in their later lives.
If it is safe to assume the battle for the best will remain intense, and no matter how hard we try, I wonder if it is outlandish to suggest that a blend of youngsters and seniors could create a powerful new normal in the future. After all, the default strategy for diminishing resources would be to find alternatives, and it is highly unlikely that the world of work, in the future, can rely solely on kids and robots.
The dream factory of Hollywood has already picked up on a theme. ‘The Intern’ is a heart-warming tale of a 60+, Robert de Niro, and Unicorn CEO, Anne Hathaway, forming a symbiotic alliance between the stoic calm of a retired executive and the hipster vibe of the new economy.
Seems like a great idea, right? In theory yes, but if you google ‘senior intern programs’ in reality, all the results are offering is placement for senior year students. So is this Hollywood fiction or is there a hidden message for the ever increasing battle for the dwindling numbers of youngsters and hipsters?
Searching for success stories in the real world is not easy. But there is the example of Barbara Beskind, the nonagenarian who has started a new career as a valuable part of Silicon Valley's tech world, bringing her years of wisdom to the leading edge design firm IDEO.
According to this unique woman, age is absolutely no barrier to performance or to live the dream. "I think the beauty of being 91 is that you can look back and see how the little pieces fit into the big pieces of life, and life is a complete puzzle," Beskind told Today.com.
Granted she might not be tempted by the slides and gaming corners, but given the right infrastructure and working conditions, she pulls quite a crowd in the bustling office, where the average age is probably a quarter of hers.
Maybe examples like this can inspire a new wave of organisations looking at the compositions of their workforce and add new HR initiatives offering opportunities for the untapped pool of experienced and time-affluent generations born before the 70s.
They may not become your top performers by today’s standards, they might not look for the average 9 to 5 standard offering, but they might be willing and eager to add value to your teams, by coaching and mentoring younger generations and, by doing so, give a new purpose to their post-retirement years as a mature portfolio lifer.
Call me an eternal optimist but I do believe there is mileage in exploring the “Beskind phenomenon”. If you have or know of great examples on how to integrate young and mature I would be very interested in hearing your story!