A Sustainable Workforce Starts With You

Aging Out

Recently, a friend retired. He told me in the last year of his work that he had been, “Cut out of the herd” at work.

For a minute I was taken aback by that statement but the more I thought about it the more it made sense. For those of you who do not know what that phrase means, in West Texas usually a cow or steer or horse is cut out of the herd when too old to do what was demanded. Apologies to all of you sheepherders and cowboys out there. What my friend meant was that the younger folks on his team had slowly pushed him aside when a new project or relationship came along. It was happening so often, in fact, that he was almost willing to take early retirement and not wait until his retirement age of 65.

I was standing next to a senior executive at a professional services firm at a cocktail party that was being thrown in his honor. He turned to me and said, “I guess that I am being retired.” Sure enough, he was being retired and it seems that neither his partners nor his friends had told him.

After a dinner, I was talking to a younger executive and we were talking about how several of his partners had “Stayed too long at the dance.” meaning that they should have left some time ago or at least should have stepped into different roles in the firm or in the community so the Gen Xers and Millennials could take over leadership roles, moving the firm and its projects in a different direction.

I hear from folks in the construction industry about “aging out” or getting too old or slow to do the work necessary to bill the hours for the firm. One fellow talked about “graying out” and losing out on opportunities because the contractor clients had put younger folks into decision-making slots and those folks were looking for peers who could see projects the same way they did.

“Never trust anyone who is over 30.” I heard and repeated that phrase over and over growing up. Now I am hearing it again as kids in their twenties are getting facelifts or Botox treatments so that they will not look over 30 to the rest of their team and peers.

This is a time when there are as many as 5 generations of people working in our firms – Traditionalists, Boomers, Xers, Millennials, and Gen-Z. We get so busy working to onboard new folks to meet the labor shortages across professions that we often forget to pay attention to those who “brought us to the dance” and forget to find new roles for them to fill while they are approaching retirement.

On the other side of the fence, this is a time when many of us develop blind spots in our own careers and instead of making a decision to move on we wait until someone pushes us out of the firm. We then act surprised and hurt when it happens.

The building industry has a problem at both ends of the age spectrum in this era of change and innovation. We have trouble getting folks to enter and stay with the firm and we have a problem helping our most dedicated and loyal workforce when they are approaching their retirement age and “stay too long at the Dance.”

The issue is about to get even more complex as breakthroughs in healthcare and genetics will make it possible for the Millennials and GenZ cohorts to live over 100 years on average. If that is so, my new granddaughter and her cohort will live to be as old as 150 years old and could possibly work until they are 125 or older. That may seem farfetched, but my grandfather’s cohort only lived an average of 40 years. Today we have doubled that average lifespan.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 10,000 boomers a day are reaching retirement age and “aging out”. If you are in the construction industry or professional services and in a leadership position, I would suggest that you take a look around, design a succession plan for your position and then “Cut yourself out of the herd” before some cowboy comes along and does it for you.