Wisdom Workforce

As Boomers start retiring in large numbers, the supply of labor will inexorably dwindle, causing organizations to have difficulty finding and retaining good workers.

One untapped resource for good workers is the retired workers themselves, which I call the “wisdom workforce”. Many employers are hesitant to consider hiring people who are over 50. They believe the stereotypes: “burned out, resistant to new technologies, absent due to illness, poor at working with younger supervisors, reluctant to travel, less creative, less productive, mentally slower, and more expensive to employ.”

Reality is just the opposite. Peter Cappelli, a management professor at Wharton and co-author of a book Managing the Older Worker, says that older workers outperform younger ones, delivering superior performance.

In truth, many retirees would like to remain working, although perhaps as less than full time. They need the intellectual challenge and social interaction. Additionally, many need to do so because of their financial condition. If they were working, this would considerably lower the requirement for government assistance and social services.

In addition to facing a labor shortage, organizations are losing decades of wisdom and experience with each person that retires. Enthusiasm and innovative thinking of younger workers are absolutely essential, but so are wisdom and experience. Organizations benefit by integrating both.

My idea is that an organization would intentionally employ wisdom workers – their life experience helps them stay grounded and keep others around them grounded, leading to better and more consistent performance. An organization could intentionally design jobs to use the strengths of the wisdom workers, while accommodating any limitations such workers might have.

What do you think? Are retired, or semi-retired, people a valuable untapped resource? Would organizations and society benefit by enabling them to continue to work? If so, how can organizations utilize their talents and experience to the organizations’ advantage?

Gary Langenwalter

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