One More Way Today’s Workplace Is Changing

One More Way Today’s Workplace Is Changing

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Union membership is slightly down again in this country, which is just the latest symbol of the revolution taking place in our 21st century workplace. Just over 11 percent of all workers belong to a union, the Labor Dept. reported Friday. 

Public sector workers still have the highest union membership rate, at roughly 36 percent, while a little less than 7 percent of private sector workers belong to unions.  

Even so, other iconic symbols of work in the 20th century – the retirement age of 65, the notion of retirement itself, even the 40-hour workweek – seem to persist even against the profound demographic age changes that are right now rendering traditions from the last century as quaint artifacts of a bygone era.

Related: 12 Ways to Be a Financially Fit in 2015

Unions, of course, were once a central feature of work in America, as well as the industrial democracies of Europe and Asia. The political impact of most labor unions today as been replaced by a myriad of ways to be heard, counted and represented.  

At a time when we're healthier, more active and living well into our 70s, 80s and beyond, my belief is that other characteristics of 20th century work should follow the unions' march into history. The visible markers of this change will take on greater momentum in the next decade as the demographic realities of our time build momentum:

The retirement age of 65 has become nearly obsolete. The most recent report from the Transamerica Center for Retirement Studies is clear: “Sixty-five percent of baby boomer workers plan to work past age 65 or do not plan to retire. Slightly more than half (52 percent) plan to continue working after they retire..." 

Marketplace changes will have a longlasting impact. In the U.S., people over age 60 have 70 percent of the disposable income in this country. This is becoming true around the world as well, as indicated by everything from Europe's healthy aging trends to Japan’s silver economy.  

Related: In 2015, Welcome to the Long Habit of Living

We're changing how we spend our later years. The days of playing Bingo and golf ad nauseum are long gone. The wise old owls of today are heading up new business ventures, educating or re-educating themselves, or engaging in encore careers in the non-profit sector. Mature Americans are also taking care of critical health issues, both their own as well as that of their aging parents.  

As indicated by everything from Blackrock’s CORI retirement planning ideas to the Merrill Lynch-AgeWave studies on how we’re rethinking and reimaging our life savings, the very concept of work and retirement is itself undergoing a radical transformation.

You can also bet that the businesses and companies that are flexibly and wisely dealing with the impact of population aging will also win in today's competitive global economy. 

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Executive director of the Global Coalition on Aging, Michael W. Hodin, Ph.D., is also managing partner at High Lantern Group and a fellow at Oxford University's Harris Manchester College.