Forced retirement is an outdated idea. It belongs in the past with movie rental stores, screeching dial-up Internet and unwieldy roadmaps that never quite fold back into shape. We live in different times, and workplaces must adapt to generations that are living longer, smarter and more productively. Forcing men and women to retire at a certain age is not only unfair, but shortsighted. Today, people have so much more value to offer businesses, society and themselves long after their mid-sixties. Aging Isn’t What It Used to Be Many workplace cultures and employment guidelines have not kept pace with developments in technology, automation and evolutions in human development. People live and age very differently today than they did not too long ago. For a little perspective, consider the following life expectancy statistics for the year 1965 in the following countries: Now, let’s look at those same countries in 2016: These numbers are staggering. In a mere 51 years, across growth economies and the world, the human race has dramatically increased its collective life expectancy, which is transforming everything about what it means to be a person—including how we work, raise our families and determine exactly what a job means to our lives. For employees 65 years old or older, the future is bright as technology and automation continue to accommodate the needs, skills and talents of aging employees. Automation in an Era of Aging Workforces For decades, traditional employees have followed regimented work schedules that demand they show up to work in the morning and leave later that day, or even that evening. Then, when an employee reaches the age of 65 (or the determined retirement age of their respective country), that regimen suddenly stops, and they are forced into a life of retirement—the logic being that people over a certain age can no longer function at peak capacity; besides, nobody wants to spend the later years in life working. Times have changed. For many professionals, work is not only a job, but a way to connect with others, demonstrate value to society and keep one’s mental and intellectual faculties sharp, engaged and growing. Automation, fortunately, is disrupting the retirement dynamic. Advanced technologies and human capital management software are allowing companies to hire, schedule and pay retired workers in new ways that suit their lifestyles. Many companies are leveraging the value of older workers by employing them in more limited capacities as mentors, teachers and role models to younger employees. Instead of being unwillingly mandated into retirement, older workers can be part of flexible workforces comprised of semi-retired employees. Employers also benefit because they no longer have the binary choice of keeping an aging worker on as a full-time employee or losing them completely to retirement. This allows employers to maintain access to the incredible institutional knowledge and value older workers possess, while also enabling older workers to remain engaged with their professional responsibilities and colleagues. In Conclusion: Automation and the Future of Work Careers are a lifetime investment. For too long, obsolete workplace policies have unfairly severed hardworking professionals from the joys and rewards of their livelihoods. Not only is automation helping to keep aging employees connected to their careers, but it is also opening up opportunities for older workers to prepare younger employees for change. If human life expectancy can evolve so significantly in 51 years—not even a lifetime for most—then those who witnessed that change, and who were part of that lifetime, have the invaluable experience and wisdom that comes with age. Automation will continue to transform the way human beings work, but it will never make knowledge, talent and experience irrelevant. Though the future of work may see fewer repetitive jobs and low-level skills, it will always require the perspective, insights and guidance from those who have come before. In the future, turning 65 years old will be a reason to celebrate one’s career, and not say goodbye to it.
Homemade soup dumplings, lovingly knitted socks for the grandchildren, and a one-woman e-marketing firm specializing in AI storytelling for global brands. Being a grandparent isn’t what it used to be. Many nations have already seen a steady increase in the median ages of their workforces, and this trend is largely expected to continue into the coming decade. Retirement-savings gaps (the difference between retirement costs-of-living and savings for retirement), are widening dramatically throughout the world, due to longer life expectancies and inadequate retirement savings programs. Analysis of this phenomenon shows that this gap stood at $70 trillion globally in 2015 and is projected to reach $400 trillion by 2050. These wide gaps are a powerful motivator behind older workers returning to or remaining in the workforce. While well-documented statistics about people living longer and healthier lives abound—the retirement gap is real—commonly overlooked, is the evolving relationship aging people have with work—actually, perhaps not work, but life. A New Era of Relevance The image of an aging worker blowing out candles in a bland conference room and reading heartfelt memos scribbled on a “Congratulations on Retiring!” card belongs in the past. Save the applause. Forget the cake. There may be no speech. Older workers are increasingly opting out of the ceremonies designed to mark their passage into the “golden years”. The elderly are forging their own futures and disrupting one of life’s most harmful clichés: aging is a process of declining relevance. Today’s aging population thinks differently. While financial reasons are the most common motivation, older workers also frequently cite non-financial reasons for remaining in the workforce, including the desire to stay healthy and active, and taking pride and finding self-fulfillment in their work. Almost 60% of workers aged 45-plus are investing in new skills for work, with the majority reporting positivity and excitement about their jobs. The idea of retirement is blasé, if not downright insulting. What does it say about a person who celebrates retirement because they’ve spent the last 45 years doing something they’d prefer not to be doing? Sure, few people like waking up and trudging off to work on a Monday morning, but this small act of self-determination connects them with millions of other workers who share the same experience. That connection brings relevance, dignity and a sense of purpose. Older people know that going to work is a blessing, not a curse. And workers around retirement age are discovering that employment—and the relevance it brings—is now, more than ever, something they can customize to suit their lives. Inspiration Is Ageless Inspiration is not exclusive to youth. American Charles Flint founded IBM at the age of 61. French post-impressionist painter Cézanne created his most valuable work in his late 60s. After discovering early retirement wasn’t for him, tech entrepreneur Bob Parsons started the Internet domain registrar and web hosting company, GoDaddy at age 47. The same dreams young entrepreneurs have of making a profound impact on the world are the same motivations that drive older entrepreneurs. It is human nature to want to make a difference, to be respected, to matter. Now, with advances in technology connecting people and opportunities more than ever, aging employees are exposed to career options that didn’t exist 20, or 10, or 5 years ago. Technology keeps changing, and older people—contrary to popular opinion—are better equipped to navigate change because they’ve seen it and lived through it. Few of the world’s most renowned entrepreneurs achieved success without having to endure struggles and challenges. Steve Jobs was fired from his own company. Jack Ma, cofounder of Alibaba, was rejected from 30 different jobs that he applied for—including a position at Kentucky Fried Chicken, which was founded by Harland David Sanders at the age of 65! Inspiration arrives via many ways and in many incarnations—as a fleeting thought while taking a shower or as the result of decades of grueling work in a particular industry. Regardless of the means or the circumstances, inspiration has never—despite cultural assumptions—been determined by age. The reason many older people do not act on their inspired moments is because society expects less—or perhaps something different—from them. Times are changing. The Essentials of Entrepreneurship Entrepreneurialism requires three essential attributes: confidence, ability, and perspective. Older workers possess copious amounts of each. Younger people may exhibit confidence, but that bravado is often rooted in hopeful exuberance—and probably some naiveté—from not knowing how closely misfortune looms. (Luck is more arbitrary than anyone cares to admit.) Older people offer confidence rooted in knowledge gained through time and experience. Real confidence. The kind that comes from having enjoyed the best, and survived the worst, of times. Aging workers also possess true abilities and can prove it by reflecting on long careers that taught them skills, talents, and ways of thinking that can only be gained through experience. People who think older people do not have the ability to learn new technologies are practicing ageism—which is not only a myopic perspective, but illegal in many countries. Finally, entrepreneurship requires a bold perspective—to take risks, to close your eyes and let go. Prevailing wisdom states that younger people, especially people in their 20s, are naturally open to risk because they have more time and fewer responsibilities; if a business venture fails, they can rebound. But nothing opens up the human soul to risk more than the knowledge that mortality is real, and looming. Aging workers are increasingly empowered to take control of their own destinies. After the Great Recession of 2008, countless older workers opened their laptops, created websites, and started their own businesses, consultancies, and organizations. It is only a matter of time before the next aging worker becomes inspired and changes the world in unprecedented ways. Older people know that anything can happen in life. Just ask Jack Ma, who at 53 years old could be selling fried chicken in his hometown, but is instead the co-founder and executive chairman of Alibaba Group, a multinational technology conglomerate, and one of the most admired companies by Fortune. As people prepare for uncertain times ahead, it is crucial organizations also plan for the demographic changes that parallel. Older people are indeed becoming more willing and able to engage in meaningful work, and companies would do well to incorporate older workers into their workforce of the future strategies. 1World Economic Forum (2017). We’ll Live to 100 – How Can We Afford It? 2Asia Pacific Risk Center (2017). Aging Workforce 3Lynda Gratton and Andrew Scott (2016). The 100 Year Life 4European Commission (2015). Employment of older workers; The Centre on Aging & Work at Boston College (2005). Older Workers: What Keeps Them Working?
Societal aging is happening worldwide, but most apparently and rapidly in Asia. Two hundred million people are expected to move into the ranks of the elderly (age 65 or above) between now and 2030 in the Asia Pacific region. This represents a 71% increase compared to increases of 55% in North America and 31% in Europe over the same period. By 2030, Japan will become the world’s first “ultra-aged” nation, with the elderly accounting for more than 28% of the population, while Hong Kong, South Korea and Taiwan will be considered “super-aged” at more than 21%. Conventionally, longevity or societal aging has been associated with health, economic and social welfare problems. Chronic diseases, dementia, poverty and ageism are just some of the issues that come to mind when thinking about old age. Bigger economic implications include a shrinking labor force and pressure on public finances. From a workforce perspective, if the pensionable age remains unchanged, an increasing number of citizens will spend more time retired than they spent working. However, as life expectancy has increased, the health of aging populations has improved and the cognitive and physical capacities of older people have become more durable. Many older people are fit to continue working longer than their parents did. Although the magnitude, complexity and urgency of the problems laid out here should not be underestimated, the real question now may be how governments and businesses could capitalize on this group of mature talent who are still fit for work while enhancing their retirement benefits. What Governments Can Do: Pension Reform and Retirement Policies Some countries are beginning to see shifts in their workforce demographics, whereas others are looking to explore policies that would help businesses embrace older workers. Several countries in East Asia have enacted pension reforms to strengthen the provision of retirement benefits and policies to adapt to their aging populations. China, for example, in 2016 announced its plan to extend the country’s retirement age past 60 for men and 50 for women. Although the details are still to be announced this year and would probably involve a gradual shift, the move shows that China is seriously considering ways to slow a long-term decline in its labor force. In South Korea, the social-security-funded National Pension System implemented in 1988 is now the fourth-largest funded pension system in the world by asset size. The government also plans to ease rules on pension fund management to allow investments into risky assets in defined-contribution-type plans and make it mandatory for all companies to enroll employees in private retirement plans by 2022. As of 2014, only 16% of companies were using private pension plans even though they've been allowed since 2005. With these measures, the South Korean government hopes to increase the number of people enrolled in private pension funds by 44% to 7 million from 4.85 million at the end of 2013 and double the size of privately managed pension funds to ₩170 trillion (US$168 billion) from ₩80 trillion at the end of 2013, all by the end of 2020. The government has also mandated that employers extend the retirement age to 60, effective January 1, 2017. Japan has made similar strides in improving income for senior citizens. The Government Pension Investment Fund in Japan announced the adoption of a new policy asset mix in June 2014, which essentially allowed pension funds to invest a significantly larger percentage of their portfolios into international bonds and stocks while lowering that in domestic bonds and stocks. In 2013, the Japanese government also raised the retirement age from 60 to 61 and plans to increase it incrementally to 65 by 2025. The Employer’s Role in Addressing An Aging Workforce Governments alone cannot do it all. Given that the workforce is a critical mass of the emerging markets’ populations, and people are tending to work longer these days, employers can also play an important role in helping to address an older workforce; for example, with regulations changing rapidly to adapt to aging issues, employers must provide pension benefits that fully comply with the relevant local regulations. In some countries, offering additional or voluntary retirement benefits may be common. Increasing flexibility in retirement scheme design to fit employees’ individual needs may also prove critical to helping older workers transition into retirement; for example, flexibility on retirement age, working patterns and use of voluntary long-term savings as part of the retirement scheme, where regulations permit. HR is at the center of many of these policies, such as flexi-work schedules, job sharing, recruiting older workers and accommodating those with physical or cognitive limitations. As the poet Robert Frost puts it, “The afternoon knows what the morning never suspected.” To harness the wisdom and experience that mature workers have to offer, employers may find it beneficial to create new, purposeful roles for them in the organization. Businesses may also find themselves needing to address the perception that an older workforce excludes younger people. Therefore, rather than narrowly advancing the interests of the older cohort, employers are advised to create frameworks and work with the public sector to implement policies that would enable powerful intergenerational collaboration for the benefit of the organization and all cross-generational employees. The rapid pace of change in retirement systems creates an opportunity for countries in East Asia to think ahead and plan for retirement readiness over the next 50 years and beyond. Many countries are already planning for the future, as witnessed by recent reforms designed to increase coverage of employer-sponsored retirement schemes and the clear move toward defined contribution plans. Careful consideration now could better prepare retirement systems in East Asia to cope with the challenge of an aging population while setting an example for countries in other regions with similar demographics. Actions and solutions need to come from both governments and employers working together. 1 Marsh & McLennan Companies. Advancing into the Golden Years, 2016. 2 The Emerging Markets Symposium. Ageing in Emerging Markets, 2015. 3 OECD. Annual Survey of Large Pension Funds and Public Pension Reserve Funds, 2015, available at www.oecd.org/daf/fin/private-pensions/2015-Large-Pension-Funds-Survey.pdf. 4 Government Pension Investment Fund. Adoption of New Policy Asset Mix, 2014, available at www.gpif.go.jp/en/fund/pdf/adoption_of_new_policy_asset_mix.pdf.