The "Gray New World" is Changing Human Resources

It’s no surprise that, as a nation, we’re getting older. What is surprising is how quickly. The U.S. National Institute on Aging, says the population of people between ages 75-85 is 17 million. They predict that number will be 30 million by 2050.

Contrast those numbers with the UN estimates that the percentage of children will drop. Today, half of Latin America is under fifteen years old. By 2050, half will be over 40 years old.

So the trend is fewer kids and more old people.

This is the premise of Ted C. Fishman’s book, “Shock of Gray”. The book is about what the world will look like with a majority of older people…who will increasing rely upon younger people as they age. Let’s face it, as we age, we will need younger people to run companies, govern our communities, and possibly even take care of us.

As much as we might not like to talk about getting older and some might argue we’ve created a society that places value on youth, there will come a point in our lives where we do have to face the reality that we’re getting old. I found “Shock of Gray” interesting because it was able to have this conversation in a respectful way. Fishman offers the reader the facts and poses the questions. He very smartly leaves the answers up to readers.

From a human resources perspective, it made me realize how connected work and aging can be. One chapter of the book talked about older workers making more money by collecting their Social Security benefits than by taking a job. It’s pure economics. If companies are creating jobs that pay less than Social Security, why wouldn’t I retire? This not only has an impact on any potential conversations about Social Security reform but on employability and career development.

After reading Fishman’s book, I felt it should be required reading for human resources pros. At some point, the subject of the aging workforce will move into the boardroom. It could be the business that realizes the older people are a part of their core customer base. Or the company that needs to change their product to accommodate an older consumer. Maybe even the organization concerned about where their future leadership is coming from and can they groom emerging leaders before their older workforce decides to retire.

Better to start thinking of options now, than when the reality could jeopardize the company.


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