Generation Unretired, Gen U™ Humanizes Offices

There’s been a lot of discussion in recent months about the “unretired” – seniors who are returning to the workforce for economic or personal reasons. I call this formidable group, “Gen U™” because they represent an astounding number of workers – a true generation with a different mindset from previous retired generations.

Because they have the maturity of experience, they are often more adept at “Humanizing the Workplace.” They have seen sandbox politics come and go and have witnessed that nice guys really don’t finish last. They are often the “anti-TOT (Terrible Office Tyrant)” That’s not to say that all of them make great bosses. But they can be a major asset to a more interpersonal, motivational workforce, especially once unemployment levels ratchet down and companies are in a hiring mode once again.

Let’s take a look at this fascinating shift in workplace demographics.

Now Generation U workers (those 65 and older, and even under, e.g., who thought they could retire early) are asking:

“Is this all there is?”
“Is this all I’ve got?”

Driven by a devastating financial crash, housing market or just plain restlessness, Gen U will make up almost all the growth of the U.S. labor market over the next seven years. According to AARP, eight out of 10 of the 80 million Baby Boomers will work part- or full-time rather than retire. Those 64 million unretiring Americans will constitute the biggest demographic shift in the American workforce since the emergence of Baby Boomers.


1) 93% of the growth in the American labor market from now until 2016 will be from workers 55 and older [because] new estimates show the average retired couple may need more than $300,000 in savings to live comfortably and pay off late-life health care costs. [Based on a recent study by the Pew Research Center].

2) Only 20% of retirees now feel very confident they have enough money to live comfortably throughout their retirement, down from 41% in 2007. [Employee Benefit Research Institute research].

3) Eight out of 10 baby boomers say that they plan to work at least part time after they reach official retirement age, according to the AARP, as noted earlier.

4) 36% of those 56 or older are still working – more than ever. That’s more than twice as many as in 1984 [2007 Bureau of Labor Statistics report].

5) 9.5 million Americans are considering at least a partial return to the workforce because of the economic downturn, according to a recent study by Charles Schwab.


• Only about a quarter of employees 55 and older who were laid off during the past year have found jobs versus 71% of those 25 to 34.

•  According to the Social Security Administration, if you are of full retirement age, the government will give you your full Social Security benefits no matter how much money you earn. (Note: If you return to work after you’re receiving Social Security benefits, but are not yet of “full retirement age” – usually 66 years of age – the government will deduct one dollar from your Social Security benefits for every two dollars you earn over $14,160 a year.)

• Baby Boomers are earning online degrees in record numbers to train for unretirement []

• Generational demographics: there are:
•    80 million baby boomers
•    46 million Generation Xers
•    78 million millennials (Gen Y)


This presents an enormous opportunity for companies who wish to tap into this rich resource of skill and experience. While unemployment was at a 26-year high at 10.2 percent in October 2009, there are still a plethora of specialized skills available among Gen U. They laid the foundation for the high technology revolution and challenged the status quo of business in the 1960s. Now, interestingly, they are challenging the status quo of retirement.

Gen U’s contributions reside not only in their skills sets garnered over many years, which can be passed onto Gen X, Gen Y, and Baby Boomers. They have also learned a thing or two about people skills – something often lost on today’s frenzied, high-tech workplace.

Today’s need for a humanized workplace can be well served by such timeless, valued traditions as business etiquette and diplomacy – tenets of business practices applied more extensively in the heyday of the Gen Uers.

For Gen Uers themselves, this presents an opportunity to re-apply their knowledge, pay off expenses, “give back,” and feel a renewed sense of purpose. While a sense of community can be achieved in a yoga class or golf game, for many of the unretired I have counseled – building something directly impacts the livelihoods of others can be quite rewarding.

This is a truly Gen-U-ine shift that can help mitigate TOT behavior with a great people skills touch. There will need to be deft hiring practices, not to mention non-TOTs who are managing Gen Uers as well, but the opportunities are immense.