Time to Ditch Retirement? Global Leaders Confront an Aging Population

Time to Ditch Retirement? Global Leaders Confront an Aging Population

iStockphoto/The Fiscal Times

A recent study from the Aegon Center on Longevity and Retirement highlights a remarkable trend: Half of all employees surveyed expect to work past the age of 65. Drawing on data from 15 countries – including the U.S., Great Britain, India, Japan and Australia – the report makes it clear that with longer and healthier lives, people are neither ready nor able to call it quits at the traditional retirement age of 65. Three or four decades of retirement? That’s a lot of shuffleboard -- and a lot of expense.

As individuals shun 20th century retirement norms, policy makers would be wise to keep up. This development is to be celebrated. Longer, more productive working lives are the key to 21st century fiscal sustainability.

The World Health Organization has been exploring the issue. In a seminal decision, the WHO’s executive board recently adopted a new strategy to address health and aging. At the core of the new approach is the concept of functional ability, which seeks to sustain the health of our skin, bones, vision and hearing.

The WHO has affirmed that the job of health policy is not just treating and curing disease, but enabling healthier and more active aging into our 70s, 80s and beyond. 

Related: How Planning to Work in Retirement Could Backfire

At the World Economic Forum’s Davos meeting a few weeks ago, one session called on businesses and governments to embrace the full extent of the 21st century life span; only then, it was argued, can economic growth be sustained in the decades ahead.

Lynda Gratton, a professor at the London Business School, called for businesses to “ditch retirement.” She reminded global leaders that “longevity is not just about the last 20 years of life. It’s actually about the fundamental redesign of life from the very beginning.” Dr. Elizabeth Blackburn, a Nobel laureate, addressed the unique value of older workers and suggested that corporations examine “the skill sets that older people really have that younger [employees] don’t have, and maximize their use.”

Both Gratton and Blackburn are exactly right: There is immense opportunity is the aging of the workforce, and yesterday’s assumptions will get us nowhere. A new set of strategies will be required.

That gets us back to the Aegon survey. In addition to the eye-opening results it offers, the authors provide concrete suggestions about how public and private policies can translate strategies into action. As one example, governments can launch public awareness campaigns to promote “the opportunities for continuing to work past the traditional retirement age,” while also identifying and removing “disincentives in workplace retirement plans to working past a fixed retirement age.”

Related: Can Older Workers Get the Job Done? We’re Proving It Every Day

Even more important is the suggested corporate response, which includes conducting studies to assess the value of retaining older workers, promoting aging-friendly work environments, establishing “intergenerational employee resource groups,” and providing training for older workers. These policies would go a long way toward realizing age-friendly workplaces.

Such workplaces can be built with help from the guidance set out in the age-friendly business principles articulated by the World Economic Forum. Businesses need to create:

1. Age-Neutral Workplace

2. Supportive Working Environment

3. Inclusive Culture

4. Life-Long Learning and Participation

5. Financial Planning for Longer Working Lives

6. Healthy Ageing

7. Supportive Care-Giving

Taken together, these recent developments reveal an inescapable truth: In a world with more “old” than “young,” and in a world where we must prepare to celebrate our 100th birthdays, the status quo cannot hold.

Happily, this is no longer a secret. Across the globe, we’re redefining how we live, work and retire in the 21st century.