Employers may soon face a workforce that's young or old — with little in between
- Baby boomers' numbers dominate the workforce and the U.S. population at large, leaving an indelible footprint on both, says the Employee Benefit Research Institute (EBRI). A new research report from EBRI shows that as the last of the boomers reach their mid-50s and are living longer than previous generations, they're having a seismic impact on the labor force.
- The data also show that after 1994 the share of people aged 55 or over increased substantially in both population and the labor force. While the portion of the workforce aged 55 or older also grew since 2007, the increase is due to boomers aging, rather than older workers remaining longer in the workforce.
- EBRI surmises that the 55-and-older share of the labor force will keep growing in the short term due to the generation's size, but then start to shrink as the next generation turns 55. The slow-growing 25- to 34-year-old segment of the labor force will grow more quickly as boomers leave the workforce and, eventually, the labor force will be made up of largely older and younger workers with fewer employees in between, creating compensation and benefit challenges for employers.
Multi-generation workforces challenge employers to come up with benefits offerings that meet the various and distinct needs of each group. Employers must be careful of generalizing which generations seek what, but workers in varying life stages (early childcare versus retirement age, for example) likely will want different benefits. Some workers may seek comprehensive healthcare and retirement plans, while others may be more interested in the personalized aspect that voluntary benefits provide.
Boomers witnessed massive workplace transitions involving benefits, such as employers phasing out defined benefits plans to offer defined contribution plans; the digitization of HR services, which gave workers 24/7 access to benefits information; and the introduction of wellness plans to maintain and improve workers' health and wellbeing. Boomers also were part of a large influx of women into the workforce, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, which influenced family leave policies.
But now, millennials and Generation Z may begin to define the future of the workplace. Pew Research identifies millennials as the current largest segment of the workforce. As they age and boomers leave the workplace, employers will have to prepare for that upcoming change, possibly by adjusting, adding or replacing benefit offerings.