Not Fade Away-Boomers in the Workplace

891418990Not Fade Away, first recorded by Buddy Holly & the Crickets in 1957, is one of my personal favorites. The Grateful Dead’s cover of the song is truly great, whether linked with Going Down the Road Feeling Bad or not. Nothing like hearing Mickey Hart & Kreutzmann’s drums. I can name that tune in one drum note.

However today’s Struming is about Boomers not fading away in the workplace. In fact, the % of Boomers who continue to work has been rapidly climbing.

To define terms, Boomers (as in post WWII Baby Boomers) were born between 1946 and 1964. Therefore the oldest boomers will turn 73 this year and the youngest will turn 55. That’s interesting since now the youngest boomers are joining the 55+ demo. In the ad business where I worked for the early part of my career that’s the demo that many brands have largely forgotten (Yes, I know drug products, senior living, cruises, etc. are the exceptions.)

As it relates to Boomers, as I have aged I have come to realize that there is a negative older age bias in the workplace. That’s not a personal gripe at all, as I left the “traditional workplace” 20 years ago at age 46. My comment is a reflection that many companies subtly (and in some cases not so subtly) noodge their elders onto their ice float in their 50s and 60s and send them down river. To be fair, elders who are slow to change, embrace new technology, and yearn for yesteryear are in fact ice-float worthy.

boomers workingHowever, based on recent trends it now appears Boomers are hanging onto jobs longer. In fact, as shown in the chart, almost 40% of Boomers are still in the workplace as compared to only 28% of comparably aged 55+ workers 25 years ago. That’s a big upswing back to levels of the early 60s. And while many Boomers are retiring, what’s changed is that while many more Boomers remain in the workplace, many Boomers don’t hold the same level of employment as they once did. Many work in different professions than in their earlier career. Many earn far less and in some cases work far less hours.

A recent article in USA Today, Older Workers are Driving Job Growth as Boomers remain in workforce longer, was an interesting summary of the issues. It points out that roughly 1/2 the job gains experienced in 2018 were from Boomers.

The issue is simply: Why are Boomers working longer? There is no singular overriding reason. In fact there are several:

1. Boomers are living longer than their 55+ aged counterparts did 25 years ago

2. Boomers want to work longer and feel engaged in what they do

3. Some Boomers need to work longer since they their savings are insufficient, and many of their counterparts from yesteryear had pensions which are virtually gone for today’s non-government workers.

4. The “downside” of longer life is the necessity for some to plan to have a stream of income into one’s 90s (whether you get there or not). You don’t want to live a long life and “out-kick your coverage” so to speak.

There’s also a 5th reason—in today’s low unemployment economy there are jobs to be had for those who want them. Perhaps not full-time jobs, or top paying jobs, but for those who seek employment, there is a job to be had in almost every geography.

As a Boomer myself (one with a lot of tread left) I also think there is wisdom in the backgrounds of those who have experience, so long as they don’t become relics living in the past. In another life as a young account guy at BBDO, I looked at those in their 50s as dinosaurs. Oh, to be a 50-year-old dinosaur again!

What will be interesting is when a future recession hits (and it will) and unemployment begins to creep northward (which it will), whether Boomers be the first to go. For many, alas, this will be the case. For those providing value commensurate with their compensation, they will be in a stronger position. But that’s when age bias will become an even bigger issue.

But until then, Boomers are not fading away. They are just going down the road feeling good.

More Strumings


  1. Mike Crowther says:

    I’ve come to recognize that the key difference for me is how long each day I can be really good.
    I truly believe that in my fifties I had my best combination of wisdom, ability, and expertise, and I could be world-class good for at least 14 hours a day.
    Now before you think unflattering thoughts about my arrogance, read on…
    I’m pretty sure that by the time I hit 62, that had dropped to 8-10 hours a day, and I was relying more on expertise and wisdom, and less on ability. And now, on my way to 67, I’m probably down to 6 hours or so.
    Now that’s not to say that I’m an idiot after that, but my organization requires (and deserves) better. That’s why I’m still CEO but no longer President. And it’s why, at the end of this year, I hope to be a fond memory, not the cause of an institutional sigh of relief.

    • Lonny Strum says:

      Since we are age contemporaries (to the day), alas I also understand that 6-8 hours daily is all I have in the tank, but what a quality tank we have!

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