Baby Boomers Delay Retirement: Bonanza or Bust?

Ever since McKinsey & Company
coined the term “the war for talent” in 1997, organizations have been
warned about an impending drain brain. It was anticipated that Baby
Boomers would exit the workforce en masse as soon as they were eligible
for retirement.

But some habits are tough to break. 
Baby Boomers invented the 60+ hour workweek.  Most of them are defined
by their careers…and if not their careers, their obsession with staying
busy. Just talk to any retired Baby Boomer and they’ll  likely say: “I
don’t know how I ever had time to work!”

Work apparently is the DNA of the
blood of Baby Boomers. Add to that a financial crisis that decimated
the 401K and it appears many Baby Boomers just can’t break the  work

An article in Sunday’s New York Times reiterated a growing number of stories about retired Baby Boomers and former CEOs re-entering the workforce. The reason: They concluded that they could do things better.

Four, and possibly five, former
governors (Roy E. Barnes, Terry Branstad, Jerry Brown, John Kitzhaber,
and Robert Ehrlich, Jr), who have grown old enough since leaving office
to qualify for senior citizen discounts at the movies, want their old
jobs back.  You’ve got to wonder: is it boredom, narcissism, or
invaluable expertise that’s driving these governors and other Baby
Boomers to un-retire?

Politics doesn’t appear to be the
exception either.  It’s long been anticipated that Baby Boomers would
change the definition of retirement.   While many surveys confirm the
notion that most Baby Boomers would leave their current jobs, nearly
two-thirds say they will continue to work well into their 70s and 80s.
Nearly every industry seems to be simultaneously struggling and
celebrating the retention of aging Baby Boomers.

Is this retirement reluctance of the
Baby Boomer to call it quits a good thing? Without question, it plugs
the feared brain drain hole. That’s a positive. But it also stems the
flow of new blood into an organization, the innovation catalyst
necessary for change and adaptation to new environments. Will hanging
on to the experience and knowledge of retirement-eligible Baby Boomers
merely maintain the status quo or instill a strategy for brand

Baby Boomer retention also delays
the succession of a new generation of Gen X leaders into the corner
office. The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects a double digit
percentage increase in job openings for managers over the next decade. 
By delaying the opportunity to move up, will Gen X, primed and ready
for a promotion, leave for greener pastures?  Despite a 10%
unemployment rate for the general population, the rate is still a mere
4.6% for workers with a Bachelor’s degree and higher. That’s still
considered full employment.  Admittedly, 4.6% is a 50% more than just
twelve months ago, but the shortage of skilled managers was only
upgraded from critical to acute. The “war for talent” is still very
much alive and kicking for skilled and experienced managers.

So I ask: Is the retention and
re-hiring of a growing legion of aging Baby Boomers a wise strategy or
just another case of “the devil you know is better than the devil you

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