the age of age irrelevance?

11/28/2010

by carolyn mathews

It seems that almost everywhere I look in the media right now, the issue of retirement is prominent. There are the strikes in France, reportedly about the government needing to raise the retirement age from 60 to 62. Then there was the study mentioned in the media regarding how memory decline and early retirement go hand-in-hand. (This study was disputed by many other researchers.) Then there was the New York Times article titled, The Financial Time Bomb of Longer Lives. The author, Natasha Singer, interviews various government and financial experts regarding the topic of how (Western) countries can best cope financially with the growing older population. For sure, we’re walking the proverbial tightrope.

But when I write about retirement, it is generally about the psycho-social aspect of this transition stage, not the financial aspect. Singer’s article broached this side of the retirement discussion. She included comments from experts who mention that governments and industry will have to work together to create employment opportunities for people in their 60s and 70s. Of course, raising the retirement age keeps people working into their 60s and beyond. For example, next year Britain will eliminate its default retirement age of 65. Workers in the United States born 1960 or later will have to wait until they are 67 before they can collect full government retirement benefits.

Laura L. Cartensen, a psychology professor and director of the Stanford Center on Longevity, takes another view. She suggests that instead of raising the retirement age, both industry and governments could offer incentives that motivate older worker to remain in the workforce, (including bonuses for those choosing to continue work until they are 70 years of age), more flexible work schedules, options to telecommute, and time away from work for education and training. These suggestions make sense in terms of the national financial outlook. The longer older people work, the longer they pay into the Social Security system. The longer they pay into Social Security, the healthier the system remains despite the apparent dearth of younger employees available to pay into the system.

Such suggestions also seem agreeable to those who want/need to continue working past the age of Social Security benefits and those organizations that need those employees to remain. However, they raise more questions. For example, how do organizations release the non-performers who want to keep working and retain the performers who think about retiring? What is the effect on the talent pipeline, with the high-potential employees waiting for their chance to show they can lead? There is no easy answer. For each organization and each employee, there is a fine balance in the decision-making process involving productivity, economics, health, societal pressures, and more.

At the end of Singer’s article was a little gem, attributed to Lady Greengross in Britain, caught my eye. She said, “In the long run, I’d like to see age irrelevance, where people aren’t just labeled by their birthdays.” Perhaps one day…

 

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