Sometimes it’s beneficial to walk again through your own bookcase to reflect and to go back in time. What I found was my final thesis about ‘Work and Aging’, which I wrote in 1995 for my master’s degree in Work & Organizational Psychology at the University of Amsterdam. The title of my thesis was ‘Re-Adjustment’ – The impact of the demographic changes and the necessity for organizations to re-think and re-adjust the way they handle talent.
“INVESTING IN AN AGING WORKFORCE” (1995) |
My recommendation back then was that organizations should try to find ways to keep making use of the experience, talents and capabilities of the elderly workers – retraining them, in different roles and with a different kind of social contract between individual and organization. In this way the elderly can still be productive, share their knowledge and experience, still creating value for the organization.
In those days of life-time employment, most companies in The Netherlands such as Philips, Unilever, Shell had great pension plans and gave the elderly workers the opportunity to go into the ‘VUT’, early retirement. For example, look at my father. He was life-time employed at Philips and retired when he was in his late 50’s. Can you still imagine today?
Back then, far before McKinsey’s War for Talent, when I was writing my thesis, I learned about Charles Handy who wrote his Future of Work (1985) and the impact of economic developments. He discussed topics such as internationalization, globalization, 24/7 economy, shortening of life- and product cycles, need for innovation and speed to market.
These economic developments had great impact on the way businesses needed to re-adjust from product- towards market-orientation, needed to become more flexible, solution focused and less hierarchical. It was also the time of the rise of lean-management into the workplace and more effective, flexible ways of working. Social media and Internet were not there yet. Computers were in those days big heavy desk top machines, printers required specific printing paper with holes on the side and it was still early days for mobile phones.
With my thesis in front of me, I was wondering “In addition to technological developments, what has really changed?”
IT IS REALLY TIME FOR GOVERNMENTS AND ORGANIZATIONS TO DEAL WITH THE TOPIC ‘WORK AND AGING’ (2019) |
We change, we do, we massively respond to the technological developments and make it our own in our daily lives. WhatsApp is a simple example. We even made a verb of it: ‘who did you WhatsApp today?’ But how technology will transform our lives in the next decennia? Honestly, I am from the generation X and I have no idea how it really will impact my life or our lives.
Looking at the demographic changes, we are all really getting older, and aging is impacting society and the labor market. Thanks to medical advancements and enhanced social protection, people are likely to live longer than previous generations did. As a result, life expectancy is still increasing, and this increase in healthy years of life needs to be somehow… financed.
In the last 25 years, have we thought enough about the consequences of an increasingly aging workforce? Should we come to the nasty conclusion that we hardly made a move when it comes to re-adjusting to the subject of ‘Work and Aging’?
Take a look at some facts hitting my neighbor country and industrial powerhouse Germany. This key European country with the second oldest population in the world after Japan, is home to a population of around 80 million people. According to the OECD, life expectancy at birth in Germany is almost 81 years. At present, one in five Germans is over the age of 65, and in the coming years it is moving towards a third of the domestic population. With these facts, Germany has the highest proportion of people over the age of 65 year in the European Union, increasing to 24 million by 2035. That is a 7 million increase on the current 17 million. People aged 50 and older will represent 50% of the population.
What shall we do with the aging workforce of 50 years and above? Will they still be valued, or will they be dismissed? Who will win and who will lose with this aging workforce? Governments and organizations, it is really time for re-adjustment to the topic ‘Work and Aging’. Even more than ever!
The consequences of an aging population in a technology driven world are huge for countries, organizations and people in the 21st century. Some questions arise to me:
- How are organizations going to deal with the rising gap between talent supply and talent demand?
- How are organizations going to align the organizational needs with the individual needs?
- How are organizations going to grow and stay relevant if there is a significant shortage of skillsets due to the technological developments?
What are your thoughts? And how is your organization or country dealing with this topic?
INVESTING STRATEGICALLY IN PEOPLE IS THE ANSWER TO GLOBAL TALENT SHORTAGE (FUTURE OF WORK) |
Given a different population composition and a significant gap between the supply of talent and the demand for talent, leaders of organizations should proactively attract, retain and retrain their talents to keep their organization relevant. They should do that, but would they do that? Will these leaders act short term, cutting costs, dismissing the elderly workers and trying to replace them by younger and more cost-effective employees? For how long can they keep this up?
Or will leaders of organizations think, act and react differently? Are they willing to change the mindset and put talent at the same level as strategy and finance? Are they willing to create a life time learning organization? Are they willing to help talents to stay relevant, re-aligning organizational needs and talent needs? Maybe in cooperation with governments?
These people-driven organizations realize talent is the number one challenge for their organization. These organizations keep investing, training and developing all their talents as they realize that the prosperity of their company depends on their ability to create value through people and not just by technology. This requires leadership and a strong leadership team with a clear purpose, mission, vision aligning business strategy and people strategy, creating a winning team culture. As still the most valuable assets of the 21st century will be people. Their capabilities (talents, attitudes, skills, knowledge and styles) and their productivity will make a difference for your organization to stay relevant.