Just as managers finally figure out how to challenge and reward Generation X and Millennial employees, a new demographic segment in the workplace is emerging – Generation U, or the Unretired.
The Unretired are those who have found that retirement just isn't working out for them, or they realize that they just can't afford to retire after watching their stock portfolio dwindle and their house value shrink during the recession.
Bloomberg Businessweek, reporting on this new phenomenon, cites the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP), which says that 8 out of 10 baby boomers will keep working part- or full-time past retirement age. And the Pew Research Center says these Generation U workers will fuel 93 percent of the growth in the U.S. labor market through 2016. And consider the recent results of a Towers Perrin survey of 500 human resources executives – 59 percent said that employees are postponing retirement.
The trend is taking place in the public realm as well. Federal government retirements, once termed an oncoming "tsunami" in the early 2000s, have not materialized. College faculty members are staying in their jobs longer, too. In a TIAA-CREF faculty survey released in June, nearly one-third of those polled said that they expected to work until at least 70, compared with about a quarter of all American workers, the Chronicle of Higher Education reported. Two-thirds of those who said they expected to retire after age 67 chose personal preference, not financial necessity, as the reason.
While older workers can cost companies more in benefits, lower turnover costs and an experienced work force are an attractive upside.
Some characteristics of a typical Generation U worker:
- A senior professional with deep experience: These workers have learned so many lessons in navigating the office environment that they can be valuable mentors.
- A collaborator OR one who likes being left alone: Some have found retirement lonely and are looking to be part of a team; others are very accustomed to being given freedom to do their work without being managed closely.
- Good communicators: Generation U workers are likely to model professional and diplomatic people skills.
- Inspired and Enthusiastic: A Pew Research Center study also found that older workers are happier than their junior colleagues, with 54 percent of workers ages 65 and older said they were "completely satisfied" with their job, compared with 29 percent of 16- to 64-year-olds. The researchers found that the main reason they work "is that they want to."
As Lynn Taylor, workplace expert and author, described it in a Psychology Today blog, "someone returning to the office with a career full of experience, can more easily leave the enjoyment of work life in, and a lot of the pettiness out. With age, comes wisdom that allows one to see the forest for the trees. Imagine that."