Monday, February 23, 2009

Boomers and Retirement

While Baby Boomers have advanced relentlessly toward retirement, the muddled economy has befuddled many of them. With 401k plans shrinking worse than wool sweaters in hot water, the word “retire” suddenly provokes anxiety.

For many “Boomers” – the oldest born in 1946 – this means foregoing long-anticipated retirement dreams to remain active members of the American workforce. Disappointing? Perhaps. But not necessarily bad.

We often hear discussions about preserving our natural resources. But one resource we seldom consider is the cumulative experience and expertise of veteran workers, sometimes too eagerly replaced in the corporate world by cheaper, fresher, more tech-savvy personnel. You can educate, but you can’t teach experience – whether it’s for safe driving, raising children, or successfully carrying out job responsibilities.

That’s why we somehow need to learn how to tap into this growing reserve of workplace experience slowly phasing itself out of the workplace. Colleges and technical institutions may teach the “what” of work, but often only time and experience can teach the “how” and “why.”

The Bible addresses retirement in only one scenario. Speaking of Levitical priests, who handled responsibilities of ceremonial worship, it says, “but at the age of fifty, they must retire from their regular service and work no longer. They may assist their brothers in performing their duties . . . but they themselves must not do the work” (Numbers 8:25-26). Other types of work have no such stipulation.

Without question many workers deserve, even need, to ease out of full-time work. But it’s a matter of stewardship: After 30, 40 or more years of productive work, senior workers have much they can teach their successors, whether through direct training or mentoring. Sixty-somethings have forged a rich workplace legacy – worthwhile practices, values and traditions for others to preserve and add onto for future generations. We can’t afford to lose that.

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