No question about it: the population makeup of the United States is changing. It’s estimated that as of the year 2020, there will be more people over the age of 65 than under the age of 5 in America. The graying of America is expected to have a significant impact on virtually all aspects of life in the United States, but perhaps nowhere will that impact be stronger than in the world of work. So how will the aging workforce and population in the US impact the ways we make our living?
Increase in Healthcare and Senior Service Providers
Every day in America, 10,000 baby boomers reach retirement age. Not only does this mean that the labor force is shrinking, but it also means that the demand for healthcare and senior service providers is growing at an exponential rate. In fact, the need for skilled nurses, physicians, and gerontologists is already increasing far more rapidly than the supply. Futurum Research found that healthcare organizations are turning to technology to keep up with the hiring demand.
Preventing the Brain Drain
As health challenges and family responsibilities compel thousands of retirement-age workers to leave the labor force daily, employers are also scrambling to fill the void. This often means making strategic decisions to hold on to the expertise and experience of Boomer employees for as long as possible — and doing this often means making the workplace look a lot different than it did before. For instance, employers may be more willing to incorporate communication technologies to enable the greater work flexibility boomers may need to remain in the workforce. This could include collaboration tools to enable telecommuting, particularly in multigenerational workplaces, where younger employees may be enlisted to facilitate senior workers in the adoption of these new technologies.
And it’s not just a one-way street, because while the millennials might be co-opted to share some of their tech-savvy with their Boomer colleagues, Boomer employees also have a wealth of professional expertise to share with younger workers. In fact, a discerning manager will take advantage of this multigenerational sweet spot by engaging in a strategy of knowledge transfer.
Essentially, as older, more experienced workers systematically mentor younger employees, the company not only preserves the expertise of the impending retiree for the next generation of workers, but it also benefits from the synergy of collaboration between the generations, the merging of generational skills and talents. In such cases, far more often than not, the benefits that result are far greater than the sum of their individual parts.
Research also shows that collaboration between millennials and boomers can yield critical insights when it comes to business practices that truly meet the needs of a diverse marketplace. For example, studies find that researching the decision-making processes of both millennials and boomers can help marketers identify important similarities and key differences between the market segments that, ultimately, will translate to more effective business strategies overall.
Red Pill, Blue Pill?
Of course, the aging of America is going to do more to the workforce than increase the demand for healthcare and gerontology services providers or give rise to multigenerational workplaces with flex work options. The aging of the workforce is also going to change the aging worker, herself.
Now, more than ever, workers are looking to remain in the labor force longer. Even more important, older employees want to remain as vital, energetic, and cognitively sharp for as long as possible. Because of this, scientists and physicians are working hard to develop new ways to support brain and body health as we age. Some of the more exciting innovations preparing to come to market include a new generation of “nootropics,” compounds, supplements, and other mechanisms used to enhance memory and facilitate cognitive processing, regardless of one’s biological age. With the help of a new generation of pharmaceutical and biotechnological innovations, an aging workforce no longer means a decreasingly effective or efficient workforce.
The aging of the population will have a ripple effect across virtually all aspects of American society, but perhaps nowhere more so than in the US workforce. This will provide virtually limitless opportunities for healthcare and senior service providers. But it’s not just the retirees who will change the world of work in America. As boomers choose to remain in the workforce longer, more American workspaces will become multigenerational in nature, with savvy managers learning not only to harness the individual talents of each particular generation but to capitalize on the rare gifts that come when the generations work together to create something new and extraordinary.
The original version of this article was first published on Future of Work.
Sam Bowman is a freelance writer and techie who enjoys getting to utilize the internet for community without actually having to leave his house. In his spare time he likes running, reading, and combining the two in a run to his local bookstore.