Why U.S. Businesses Are Nervous About Losing Boomer Retirees

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Along with overburdened retirement plans and overcrowded early-bird buffet bars comes yet one more worry as the flood of Baby Boomer retirements begins: The overwhelming majority of America businesses are not prepared to deal with the coming loss of so many experienced workers.

That’s the broad message of a recent survey conducted by the Society of Human Resource Management (SHRM) and AARP.

(MORE: Millennials vs. Baby Boomers: Who Would You Rather Hire?)

Among the highlights of the survey, which included HR professionals at companies of varying sizes:

  • Nearly three-quarters of HR pros (72%) described as a “problem” or “potential problem” the exodus of talent at their organization due to older workers retiring or otherwise leaving. As many as 7% describe it as a “crisis” for their industry.
  • Less than four in 10 (39%) HR pros says their companies have begun to “examine internal  policies and management practices” required to prepare for this secular change in staffing. Only 5% have “implemented specific policies and managements practices” as a result.

But even more unsettling than the top-line conclusions of the survey is the primary reasons these HR professionals give for their anxiety about older workers hanging it up. Essentially, they’re worried that younger workers aren’t up to the task of replacing their elders. Specifically:

  • 51% of respondents in the SHRM/AARP survey say the ability to write English (grammar, spelling) is a “basic skill” that older workers possess in significantly greater numbers than younger workers.
  • 52% cite “professionalism/work ethic” as the top “applied skill” that younger workers are less likely to exhibit in comparison to their older colleagues.

Put more crudely: America’s HR community is terrified that as Baby Boomers retire they’ll increasingly be replaced by illiterate, rude and lazy Gen Xers and Millenials.

(SPECIAL: The Future of Work)

Yikes! We’re doomed!

Or, perhaps, a few caveats are in order.

First, HR people are petty much terrified by everyone in the workforce, past, present and future. It’s the nature of working with, you know, human resources.

Second, and this should come as no surprise, the AARP—in comparison to which the NRA looks like a lazy advocate for its cause—has much to gain from any suggestion that its members will be sorely missed by Corporate America. Many AARP members at or near retirement age aren’t ready to leave the workforce, either because they can’t afford to or because they’re still interested in working or both. Which is why a few other numbers figure prominently in the survey’s key findings:

  • 30% of organizations have hired retired employees as consultants or temporary workers.
  • 27% of organizations now offer flexible work arrangements to older employees.
  • 24% now offer part-time positions to senior workers.

AARP no doubt wants those numbers to increase, thereby giving its members more options in their Golden Years—and giving younger workers time to brush up on their English.

MORE: The Jobless Generation