The Evolution of Adulthood: A New Stage

We hear about “the aging problem,” even “the aging crisis.” There is so much negative thinking about getting older; bookstore shelves are stocked with titles like Guide to Turning Back the Clock, Cheating Time, and Reversing Human Aging. With the new realities should come an understanding and appreciation of the benefits and opportunities that result from longer life. As Nobel Prize winner Gary
Becker wrote in his Business Week column,8 increased longevity was the greatest accomplishment of the 20th century.

Let us think about some of the benefits and opportunities:

  • We have a growing pool of almost four million Americans aged 50 and older (soon to be increased by the 76 million baby boomers) who are retired from regular full-time employment, but who are interested in and qualified for continued work at a time when we have a shrinking workforce and extremely low unemployment (perhaps we need to think about two phases: retirement and then, for the many people who want to continue working, rehirement).
  • This talent pool of older workers with experience, expertise, proven performance and seasoned judgment represents a flexible and cost-effective way for companies to meet their employment needs at a time of continued low unemployment and increasing labor shortages.
  • Greater utilization of new stage Americans should increase GDP, contribute to productivity gains, increase tax revenues, and help to sustain our continued economic growth and ability to compete in the global marketplace.
  • Companies can maximize their return on the investment in developing the intellectual and social capital of older workers by providing them with phased retirement programs or career options that encourage those who can add value for longer periods of time to remain at work.

This last point requires further discussion. It has been suggested that retaining the talents and capabilities of older workers will impede the career growth of high-potential younger workers and may even cause intergenerational conflict. Survey research demonstrates that many older Americans want to continue to work but primarily on a part-time basis, where they can have more flexibility and less stress. Providing
them with phased retirement programs and a variety of career options means that they can continue to serve as a valuable resource without impeding the career growth of young people.

But more needs to be said on this point. Companies make a substantial investment in developing the intellectual and social capital of their employees. By retaining their talents and capabilities for longer periods of time through special assignments or particular projects, where they can continue to add value, older workers can help companies to be more successful and to provide more jobs. Also companies should recognize the benefits of retaining or hiring older workers where the requisite expertise is lacking within the company, particularly in these labor-short times; this would in no way impede the career growth of high-potential younger workers. Finally, retaining the services of older workers on a part-time
basis can be helpful in providing training and mentoring to younger workers as they advance in their careers.

In an AARP study, the results of which were released in June 1998, 80 percent of over 2,000 baby boomers indicated that they plan to work during retirement and 17 percent of this group expect to start their own businesses.9 We believe this trend will increase as older Americans approaching retirement understand they will be living longer and in better health, or perhaps simply because they have not saved enough to cover their retirement needs. The new businesses that are created can provide new job opportunities. It should be clear that most of the new jobs that have been created since 1982 have come from start-ups and small companies with under 20 employees (about 80 million new jobs created in such companies versus 40 million jobs lost in the downsizing of large companies).

It is past time that we redefine what we mean by aging and retirement in America. Central to this redefinition is the recognition and understanding of the new stage of adulthood. This is not a nicety–it is an absolute necessity for all Americans, including those who are moving into their new-stage years.

It is our goal to draw attention to a transformational change that is rapidly occurring throughout the world. Because of the dramatic extension of longevity, adult life in this new millennium will unfold through three stages instead of the two stages that have ended in retirement and old age. Countries around the world have received an unexpected bonus–a population segment of wise and experienced individuals ages 62 to 85 with many remaining years of vigorous and healthy life who are ready, willing, and well qualified to continue working. They will replace what has been an elderly population over 60 to 65 living out their last years in quiet retirement.

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1 Datapedia of the United States (Historical Statistics of the United States from Colonial Times, 1994).
2 Fortune 16 August 1999 reported the number at 74 percent, and an AARP Study entitled Baby Boomers Look
Toward Retirement reported the number at 80 percent in June 1998.
3 John W. Rowe and Robert L. Kahn, Successful Aging ( 1998; New York: Dell, 1999) xi-xv.
4 Dr. Elliott Jaques and Kathryn Cason, Human Capability (Falls Church VA: Cason Hall & Co., 1994).
5 Dr. Elliott Jaques, “Death and the Mid-Life Crisis,” The International Journal of Psycho-Analysis 46.4 (1965): 502-514.
6 op. cit.
7 Study conducted by the Harvard School of Public Health, cited in Denver Rocky Mountain News, 20 August 1999.
8 Gary S. Becker, “Longer Life Was the Century’s Greatest Gift,” Business Week 31 January 2000: 32.
9 AARP, Boomers Look Toward Retirement (AARP: Washington, DC: 1998).

Background on Dr. Elliott Jaques

Dr. Elliott Jaques was Visiting Research Professor in Management Science at George Washington University in Washington, DC until his decease in March 2003. He was engaged in practical field work over the course of 50 years in the development and real-life testing of a comprehensive science-based system of organizational development and managerial leadership, including fundamental developments in our understanding of the meaning of work and in the evaluation and development of individuals engaged in work.

This work was carried out through projects in industry and commerce, in government, and in social, educational and health services including the Church of England and the U.S. Army. In the latter connection, Dr. Jaques was awarded the Joint Staff Certificate of Appreciation by General Colin Powell on behalf of the Joint Chiefs of Staff of the U.S. Armed Forces for “outstanding contributions in the field of military leadership theory and instruction to all of the service departments of the United States.”

He is the author of more than 20 books, including Requisite Organization (1996), Human Capability (1994) with Kathryn Cason, and Executive Leadership (1991) with Stephen Clement. He is known for introducing the term “midlife crisis” in a paper published in 1965 on the working patterns of creative geniuses.

Background on William K. Zinke

William Zinke has been a management consultant since 1969 when he founded Human Resource Services, Inc. (HRS), which was relocated from New York to Colorado in 1990. His consulting work has been concentrated in the human resources and legal fields, with a particular focus on strategic issues in such areas as: recruitment and selection systems, management training and development, performance management, team building, management succession planning, and strategic plan development/ implementation.

HRS has played a leadership role in confronting issues relating to aging, retirement and workforce planning. In June 2000, the firm organized an event in Washington, DC that attracted major media attention, Meeting the Employment Needs of the 21st Century: National Conference on the Economic and Social Impact of Demographic Change. In January 2001, HRS privately published a book, Working through Demographic Change: How Older Americans Can Sustain the Nation’s Prosperity. HRS organized a second event in June 2007 in Washington, DC, National Conference on the New Human Resources Frontier: Utilizing Older Workers for Competitive Advantage, to serve as the launching platform for the Center for Productive Longevity (CPL), a 501(c)(3) non-profit created and funded by HRS; a book was privately published by CPL in August 2008, Utilizing Older Workers for Competitive Advantage: The New Human Resources Frontier, with chapters contributed by leaders on older-worker issues in the U.S. and Europe. The mission of CPL is to stimulate the substantially increased utilization of workers 55 and older who are ready and qualified to continue in productive activities.

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