David Brooks‘ thought-provoking piece in this morning’s New York Times calls older Americans on the carpet for, “Far from serving the young, the old are now taking from them.” He then urges the older generation to use their time, energy and the internet to reverse this trend by starting a spontaneous national movement that demands changes in health care spending and the retirement age, “to make life better for their grandchildren.”
Okay, makes sense, but here’s the rub. And I think Seth Godin said it best in a recent blog post:
“Baby boomers are getting old. Dreams are fading, and so is health. Boomers love to whine and we love to imagine that we’ll live forever and accomplish everything. This is the decade that reality kicks in. And, to top it off, savings are thin and resource availability isn’t what it used to be. A lot of people ate their emergency rations during the last decade. Look for this frustration to be acted out in public, and often.” (Emphasis mine)
This means that for David Brooks’ older people’s movement to take off a couple of things need to happen:
- First, we must address the harsh reality that for many older Americans the demand for greater government support is grounded in real (or perceived) financial need.
- Second, we have to get more creative.
Yes, expensive mandates like health care spending and Social Security require new approaches. But what else can we do that would give older Americans non-governmental financial support, and greater time and energy for other parts of their life? The answer: more later-in-career, work+life flexibility.
As part of the movement, older Americans should ban together, learn how to present a well thought-out plan, and propose creative, flexible work+life fit solutions to their employers. This might include but is not limited to:
- Reducing hours and shifting responsibilities. For example, the seasoned newspaper editor who reduced his schedule and took on responsibility for teaching younger reporters how to write compelling stories, faster.
- Becoming a consultant who supports the business during specific busy periods, or in a particular area of expertise. For example, experienced accounting firm partners who consult during busy season doing audit reviews.
- Job sharing with another older worker covering a specific function. For example, two plant managers takeover shared responsibility for the quality review process at their facility.
- Becoming part of a “coverage pool” that supports the business when people call in sick or go out on leave. For example, a group of experienced tellers are “on call” to cover a group of five offices in a region. They work on average two to three days a week.
Adding greater work+life flexibility to Brooks’ spontaneous, national movement would do more than just reduce the public financial burden on the younger generation. Companies would retain valuable knowledge and experience. And older workers, especially those “who ate their emergency rations over the past decade,” would make money and get time for other parts of their lives. This is important because, quite frankly, I haven’t met too many 70+ year olds who are thrilled about the thought of going to work all day, everyday.
So why isn’t work+life flexibility part of the vision? How do we get the movement started? What do you think?