David Letterman’s Retirement Signals the Great Boomer Workforce Exodus

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May 20, 2015

When asked by The New York Times to describe his impending retirement, David Letterman called it “a good solid punch to the head.”

After taping 6,000 episodes of “Late Night” over a 33-year career (three years more than his mentor, Johnny Carson), his analogy could not be more fitting – retirement is always a figurative punch to the head, both to the retiree and the organization losing them.

Start of the Great Boomer Exodus

Letterman’s retirement is an opening salvo to the Great Boomer Exodus.

We are getting to the point where Baby Boomers are reaching retirement age and will exit the workforce en masse. Many fear that this will have a chilling effect, as decades of wisdom will walk out the door with them.

A Career Partners International survey polled more than 1,200 senior leaders, HR executives, and managers on what the highest-ranking concern for the maturing workforce was. Knowledge/experience loss and shortage of skilled workers easily took the top spots. Within this decade, the workforce will see record numbers of Boomers retiring, as the largest portion of them will reach age 65.

Demographers have been preparing for this bubble to burst for years. It’s not a matter of if, only when, we will begin to feel the effects.

Exceptional circumstances

According to the statistics gurus over at, what makes this moment in time so different from others are the exceptional circumstances Boomers found themselves in after World War II, when they became ushers to the most productive era in our history – and not just industry-wise.

As the moniker “Baby Boomer” insinuates, nearly a quarter of all Americans were born between 1946 and 1964. Labor participation rates peaked in the late 1990s, when Boomers were at the apex of their careers, and have gone downhill ever since, heading for a big workplace contraction.

Hidden causes

But hard statistics and cold numbers can paint a grim picture. How much impact will it really have, and can we really pin it all on retirees?

Forbes article by Robert Romano examined other reasons. As the population of Americans aged 25-54 increases, their labor participation is actually shrinking, causing a deficit, and many Americans aged 16-24 simply aren’t entering the labor force. He argues that young people failing to enter or stay in the workforce are the major contributors to low labor participation rates, and also notes that many Americans are working longer and retiring later.

Indeed, the average age an American expects to retire is now 67. In the 1990s, it was 60.

Prepare yourself

But none of this changes the fact that a quarter of the workforce, the most productive segment our nation has ever seen, will soon retire. The moral of the story is everyone will feel the pinch when the Boomers bow out in some way or another, so don’t fight it. Prepare yourself. Here are some tips:

  • Embrace mentorship – Your retirees take institutional knowledge with them, so make sure they share it with the incoming generations. If you don’t have a mentorship program for young employees, look into getting them some experience working with their elders in the company. Spread the knowledge.
  • Enhance training – Investing heavily in training employees on critical skills can greatly offset the loss of experienced retirees. IndustryWeek profiled the strategies of several companies who are using enhanced training to mitigate the Boomer Exodus with impressive results.
  • Step up your company recruiting – Remember that part of the problem is young people are having trouble entering the workforce to replace the Boomers, so step up your recruiting game. Offer relevant benefits, work-life balance, and do more outreach. Give them a reason to join the team.
  • Focus on retention and engagement – Perhaps the best way to prepare is to focus on keeping the employees you have so they develop and grow with the organization, easily filling the roles the Boomers will vacate. This means having a systematic way to recognize every one of them for their accomplishments and milestones, and a sincere effort from higher-ups to care about their personal well-being, the cornerstones of engagement.

When the Big Boss retires

David Letterman will give up his chair to the incoming generation in his own right, when Stephen Colbert assumes his duties at the Late Night desk, and it should signal the beginning of the Great Boomer Exodus.

When the big boss retires, it’s as good a time as any to ask if you’re ready for that good solid punch to the head as well.

This was originally published on the Michael C. Fina blog.