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How the Retirement Boom Has Impacted HR and Recruiting

Date Published: September 20, 2023 | Last Updated:November 28, 2023 | By Suraiya Sarwar
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Are You Prepared to Navigate the Baby Boomer Exodus?

Between 1946 and 1964, 76 million babies were born in the United States. As these kids – known as Baby Boomers – have progressed through different life stages, they’ve influenced resource allocation in healthcare, social security, education, and housing. Their needs and preferences have shaped policy decisions, market demands, and social programs, creating an enduring legacy that continues to impact the nation today. It’s critical to know where this massive cohort of people is because they represent nearly one-quarter of the entire US population.

So, where are the Baby Boomers now?

They’re retiring.

The workforce is experiencing a seismic shift as Baby Boomers embark on their journey into retirement. The oldest boomers turned 65 in 2011, the youngest will hit 65 by 2029, and all boomers will be above the social security retirement age of 67 by the year 2031. (To emphasize the point, 2031 is a mere eight years away.) With many Baby Boomers leaving the workforce in the coming years, this transformation has profound implications for businesses and talent acquisition.

As such, it’s worthwhile to examine the dynamics of this generational exodus, explore the emerging opportunities it presents, and discover how HR professionals can navigate the changing tides of the modern workplace. Identifying insights and strategies for thriving amid the retirement boom will be the key to success in the coming years for businesses of all types and sizes.

What Are We Seeing?

Truthfully, retirement stats are a mixed bag. Here’s a small sample of anecdotal and statistical analysis of current trends:

  • As a cohort, Baby Boomers remain in the labor force at high rates relative to other generations. Many Boomers, when surveyed, expect to work well past the age of 65. A 2016 survey conducted by The Employee Benefit Research Institute found that 45% of workers above 55 expected to retire after age 65, compared to 15% of over-55 workers asked the same question in 1996.
  • Boomers turn 65 between 2011 and 2029 at a rate of about 3.8 million a year or about 10,000 per day. If these folks were retiring at 65, we’d expect to see retirement rates on par with these numbers. But actual retirement numbers through 2019 were 2.2 million annually or about 5,900 per day.
  • Late Boomers, those born at the tail end of the Baby Boom, have less retirement wealth than earlier cohorts. The drop is partly attributable to demographic shifts and losses during the Great Recession when these folks were in their 40s, prime wealth-building years. The impact of this on retirement rates is still unknown.
  • What about COVID? As it turns out, the pandemic had little impact on overall retirement rates. Data from the US Census Bureau reveals that retirement trends stayed remarkably consistent throughout the ordeal, even by industry and earnings levels.

Headlines across the internet say older workers are leaving the workforce in droves; the “great retirement” is a phrase that seems to imply the retirement rate – the % of older workers choosing to retire relative to the total population of eligible-for-retirement workers – is growing. But the data don’t seem to bear out that hypothesis. What seems more plausible is this: lots of people are retiring nowadays because there are many Baby Boomers who can retire. A staggering 1 in 4 workers in the US is a Boomer. That potentially means 25% of the workforce could conceivably retire in the next eight years. Those numbers alone certainly would create the feeling of a “great retirement.”

A Case Study: Nursing

Let’s take this idea of the power of plain old numbers down to a smaller level. Every two years, the National Council of State Boards of Nursing conducts a survey of the nursing workforce in the US. In 2020, the survey showed the following:

  • There were 4.2 million RNs in the US in 2020.
  • The median age of these RNs was 52 years, which means half of that 4.2 million were younger than 52, and half were older. Said another way, three years ago, half the nurses in the US were older than 52 and thus likely to retire in the next 10-15 years.
  • Nurses aged 65 or older accounted for 19.0% of the RN workforce and comprised the largest age category. That’s about 800,000 nurses.
  • More than one-fifth of all nurse respondents (RNs and LPNs/LVNs) stated they planned to retire in the next five years.

Any way you figure it, these numbers boil down to this: lots of nurses will retire over the next few years. That’s not necessarily because of the pandemic, wages, working conditions, or anything else (though those issues might sway individual timing decisions a few years one way or another); it’s because these folks are approaching retirement age, and it’s time to move on. The rate doesn’t matter (unless you’re doing hard-core statistical analysis); what matters is that many nurses will retire. All these retiring nurses represent a loss of significant knowledge and experience. And what’s more is this: those retired aging nurses will need nurses. Patient care organizations will feel this demographic shift deeply.

Healthcare is one of many industries that will feel this shift. Look at your organization: How many people would that be if all the Baby Boomers retired today? Is it 1 in 4, as the statistics indicate? While this cohort won’t all disappear today, and they might even stick around longer than other generations, they will retire soon, and their numbers are significant.

The bottom line is this: Baby Boomers are causing a BOOM in retirement numbers.

What Impact Will This Have on the Labor Market?

Baby Boomer retirement significantly impacts the labor market due to the sheer size of this generation and their extensive work experience. As Baby Boomers retire, several key effects on the labor market will be observed, including the following:

  • Talent Gap: The retirement of experienced Baby Boomers creates a talent gap in the workforce. These individuals possess valuable skills, knowledge, resources, and expertise that can be challenging to replace, especially in specialized industries.
  • Labor Shortage: As many Baby Boomers exit the workforce, there may be a shortage of workers in certain sectors, leading to increased competition for qualified candidates.
  • Increased Demand for New Hires: As companies look to fill the vacant positions left by retirees, there will be a growing demand for new hires to step into those roles.
  • Leadership Vacuum: Many Baby Boomers hold leadership positions within organizations. Their retirement creates a vacuum in management and leadership roles, requiring succession planning and the development of future leaders.
  • Training and Development: Companies need to invest more in training and development programs to upskill existing employees or new hires to fill the gaps left by retirees.
  • Shift in Workforce Dynamics: The retirement of Baby Boomers can lead to a shift in workforce dynamics, with younger generations taking on more significant responsibilities and influencing workplace culture and practices.
  • Social Security and Pension Systems: The retirement of Baby Boomers strains social security and pension systems as they start drawing on these benefits, potentially impacting government budgets and financial planning.

Are You Prepared to Respond?

Employers and HR departments must adapt their recruitment and retention strategies to address these changing dynamics. Ideas include the following:

Strategies for Adapting to Changing Workforce Demographics

To address the talent gap, companies can implement several strategies. Offering competitive compensation packages, flexible work arrangements, and professional development opportunities will attract both younger and older workers. Companies can also consider implementing phased retirement programs, allowing Baby Boomers to transition out of the workforce while mentoring younger employees gradually.

Developing a Diverse and Multi-generational Workforce

A diverse workforce, including multiple generations, brings a variety of perspectives and ideas to the table. HR departments can attract candidates from different age groups by emphasizing their commitment to inclusivity and equal opportunities. Training and mentorship programs encouraging knowledge-sharing between generations can foster a collaborative work environment. A broad range of ages in your workforce leaves you less vulnerable to leadership vacuums and talent gaps going forward.

Creating an Appealing Workplace Culture

Companies must cultivate a workplace culture that values employee well-being, work-life balance, and professional growth to appeal to multiple generations. Offering remote work options, flexible schedules, and wellness initiatives enhances employee satisfaction across generations.

Leveraging Technology and Data Analytics in Talent Acquisition

HR departments can leverage technology and data analytics to streamline talent acquisition processes. Advanced applicant tracking systems and data-driven recruitment strategies can help identify top candidates efficiently. Data analytics can also provide insights into workforce trends, allowing HR to anticipate future talent needs.

The Role of Professional Pre-Employment Background Checks

As part of talent acquisition strategies, conducting professional pre-employment background checks is essential to ensure the safety and integrity of the workplace. Background checks and verifications help confirm candidate credentials, work experience, and criminal records, promoting a secure work environment and maintaining the company’s reputation.

The retirement of Baby Boomers is a transformative force reshaping the modern workplace. As this generation exits the workforce, HR departments are faced with both challenges and opportunities. The talent gap left by retiring Boomers demands strategic planning and innovative recruitment strategies to attract and retain skilled workers from diverse age groups. Emphasizing workplace culture, work-life balance, and professional development can create an inclusive environment that appeals to employees of all generations.

Adapting to changing workforce demographics is crucial for businesses to thrive in the evolving landscape. By fostering a multi-generational workforce, companies can benefit from the wealth of experience, knowledge, and fresh perspectives each generation brings. Mentorship programs that encourage knowledge-sharing between senior and junior employees can ensure the preservation of institutional knowledge.

Moreover, embracing technology and data analytics in talent acquisition can streamline recruitment processes and identify top candidates efficiently. Leveraging digital platforms for remote work and flexible schedules can attract younger talent seeking a balanced work-life integration.

As companies embrace these strategies, they position themselves to thrive in a dynamic and diverse workplace, driving innovation and growth. Proactive HR departments play a pivotal role in building a sustainable future, bridging the gap between retiring Baby Boomers and emerging generations. By addressing the challenges and opportunities this demographic shift presents, businesses create a harmonious and resilient workforce that paves the way for success in the years to come.

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