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Boomers to Bid Goodbye in November?

I am not one for conspiracy theories, but what if the Boomers are just biding their time for a big moment when they decide to exit the workforce en masse?

What if that big moment was November 5, 2008?

Much has been made of the mass exodus of Boomers as many of them reach retirement age between now and 2015.

Surveys conducted by AARP, Merrill Lynch, and Harvard/MetLife revealed that most Boomers will not stop working completely. In fact, more than 60% said that they intend to cycle between periods of work and leisure. Two out of three respondents said they would NEVER retire. These survey results suggest that we should be cautious in making too many predictions about their career plans.

The impact of this impending departure could be even more profound in the Federal sphere where more than half of the workforce could collect their final full-time paycheck within the next 7 years. These estimates include roughly 90% of Federal executives.

But what makes this phenomenon even more intriguing for the public sector is the presidential election cycle. An article in Government Executive in May 2008 alluded to the idea that Boomers may use this moment as a good excuse to retire. Their primary reason may not be political, but practical: if you were a senior civil servant – not an appointee – would you want to weather the transition from one administration’s policies and procedures to another, especially if you had “been there, done that” several times before?

In other words, could the presidential election be a major catalyst for the much-anticipated, widespread wave of retirements from the Federal government? Are Boomers in your agencies suggesting such a change or submitting their resignations already?

Maybe we’ll have to wait until November to find out.

For more article and information on the impact of the four generations and Web 2.0 on the Federal workforce, please visit http://generationshift.blogspot.com.

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Jeremy Ames

Interesting thought, but I don’t think they’d wait until November if that were the case. Since a change of some kind is certain, transition planning has already begun. Besides, the new administration won’t take office until January, with several months to bring on second and third tier appointees. Once they’re on board they still must wait several months before they can shuffle SES appointees around. The transition will also allow several senior career employees to serve in acting positions while the new political appointees are confirmed. So for all these reasons, while there might be an uptick, I doubt we’ll see a mass wave of retirements triggered by the election. In any case, I really hope agencies are thinking seriously about knowledge transfer issues as boomers enter retirement or part-time status.

Andrew Krzmarzick

Hi Jeremy – I sure hope they wouldn’t wait! And most likely career public servants would give ample lead time before leaving their positions. Yet your thoughts about the on-boarding/shuffling of appointees – and the complications and political posturing that accompany that process – may be precisely what some Boomers would like to avoid. As you said, agencies should be engaging in knowledge capture activities regardless of the presidential transition…lest a great deal of experience and insight walk out the door.

Gray Craig

When I began my career with the County seven years ago, I was amazed at how many folks then had 20+ years of experience. I remember joking with another new hire at the time that in 10 years, we would be in charge! Lo and behold, we’re seeing more and more folks at the director and administrator level retiring or announcing retirement plans. As a result, Legacy Planning and knowledge capture have become very real issues at a local level. I expect we’re seeing (at the local level, anyway) part of a cycle that happens every 20 or 30 years as a generation retires. As Andrew pointed out, maybe it is a conspiracy…. That’s a much more exciting plotline than “We’re all just getting older…”

Andrew Krzmarzick

Hi Gray – Hope you get your chance to be in charge! Do you have a best practice model of legacy planning and knowledge capture that you would be willing to share? If so, let’s talk offline: my number is 919-767-9088. Maybe I could profile your county program in a future blog.

John Kamensky

Hi Andy — In the past, about 15-20 percent of career senior executives took the opportunity to retire at a change of administrations. Retirements also tend to drop during a recession, especially with people in FERS whose retirement benefits are often tied to the financial markets. OPM isn’t projecting much of a difference in retirement trends, based on their surveys of retirement-eligible employees. So, I don’t know if the election will be much of a catalyst for a retirement tsunami, no matter who wins!


Thanks John for chipping in. It seems that feds usually retire in January just because of the way the retirement program is set up. So we’ll see then. With the economy slowing and the stock market down, I imagine more feds will think of staying.

Andrew Krzmarzick

John – Thanks for your comment Let’s say the Boomer-age career senior executives don’t retire in this presidential election year. Do you think that the 15-20% average may increase over the next 2-3 transition cycles (2012, 2016, 2020)? How does that 15-20% average compare to the percentage of senior executive retirements in a non-election year?

Andrew Krzmarzick

Steve – Thanks for your comments. No matter what, it would be interesting to track retirements to see if there is any noticeable difference this year…then use this possibility as a catalyst for agencies to sets goals for knowledge transfer…as if the projected numbers of retirements aren’t motivation enough!