In the UK there is a great, untapped asset waiting to be exploited – the Baby Boomer retiring generation. The trend in recent years has been to lament longevity; to see only the pain of support and the worry of Dementia, Parkinson’s, and end of life. Yet if we look carefully at the silver workforce, its knowledge, skills, and experience can transform society for the better.
Consider some of the strengths and weaknesses of the silver force for the workplace, and business schools in particular.
First, the strengths. This generation of retirees are the wealthiest and fittest in history. They have worked and saved over decades into a money-producing machine – the final salary occupational pension scheme. This means they are not driven by the economics of anxiety that remains the lot of the national workforce. Their labour is relatively cheap. Physically they are of the generation that mostly abandoned the cancer of smoking, embraced the benefits of good diet and exercise without question, and for whom (barring genetic disposition) two decades or more of healthy living is a realistic prospect.
Their accumulated knowledge, experience, and skills is daunting. They have seen corporations, sectors, and political parties rise, fall and disappear. From this height they can mentor and enhance value for tomorrow’s managers and leaders.
What of their weaknesses? The most obvious is mortality. A second weakness is their un-governability. While their working life has been about obedience, they look to a decent retirement where time plenitude is welcomed. The employer of the silver force underestimates this at their peril.
However, the opportunities are boundless! They range from commitment and passion on par with young entrepreneurial spirit, a thirst for lifelong learning, and a willingness to stay young. For business schools stuck in the mire of biased examples of management, they provide an almost ethnographic account of what it means to forge a career and attempt to lead a decent life.
The biggest threats to a silver force are governmental and heuristic. The final salary occupational pension scheme is being consigned to history. A combination of taxation tinkering and overly complex regulation means one of the key drivers for increased equality of income between those in work and the silver force will decline in importance, with comparatively poor post-retirement income schemes as a replacement.
Heuristically, it is now becoming proven that ‘rules of thumb’ that may serve well in certain contexts can have dangerous consequences in others. Silver workers, because of their longevity, are more likely to be subject to heuristic thinking. One only has to look at those in positions of leadership in the regulation of financial services prior to the global financial crisis. Many of them were City grandees who had become complacent about the state of banks and banking products.
On balance, it seems that the strengths and opportunities afforded by a silver workforce outstrip the threats. The challenge is to disrupt existing labour markets to the extent that the knowledge, skills, and experience of the silver workforce can be effectively realised.
Steve Priddy is an academic dean at GISMA Business School, as well as affiliate professor at Grenoble Ecole de Management