Recession and Retirement; are you getting blindsided?

Back in 2007 I was tasked with researching and planning for the impending baby boomer retirement wave that everyone thought would be hitting right about now. The was a fear of a massive brain drain as the majority of our executive workforce is or will be eligible to retire within the next five years. The need was not only to find a way to staff the large number of people leaving but also to find a way to retain a lot of the historical knowledge that would be leaving with them. In 2007, this was priority number one. Then, the recession hit. Unemployment rose almost as quickly as people’s retirement stocks plummeted. All of a sudden, people were no longer contemplating retirement; they were calculating the number of years they would need to work beyond 65 to make up for what they’ve lost. As a recruiter, I witnessed the quality of applicants going up as more and more good workers are getting laid off for no other reason than their company can no longer afford their payroll. What scares me is how quickly these same managers, once tasking me to plan for a massive brain drain, are now claiming they can hire anyone at anytime because everyone “needs” a job. The reality is that these baby boomers are still eligible to retire and the recession will not last forever. Yes, it may be true that the massive waves of retirement will be delayed from the original prediction, but they are inevitable. In fact, my prediction is that once the market does rise again and the boomers see their retirement stocks go back up, they will retire as quickly as possible to lock in that amount before it disappears again. If my prediction is true, then the wave of retirements will be bigger and hit harder than our original thought. So, although it may seem premature to start planning for massive hires during a recession, it’s better than being blindsided in the future.

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Andrew Krzmarzick

Hi Michaela – Wondering if Boomers will ever REALLY retire. Several surveys are revealing that Boomers – even before the recession – were saying that they would cycle between periods of work and leisure…work a little, play a little, just keep making a contribution. Some of those studies:

New Retirement Survey from Merrill Lynch

“Reinventing Aging” from Harvard/MetLife

I think it’s going to be a very complicated situation – older Boomers will retire, but the young ones (those now in their mid- to late-40s and early 50s) will assume leadership positions for the next decade or more…they’ll reign long enough to get Gen Y trained up…but Gen X will be caught up in the middle, feeling overlooked again…

And if Boomers don’t really retire and leverage their experience and relationships to come back as contractors, working part-time (not just from government, but from other sectors), how does that ensure succession planning?

Fascinating time to be observing workforce shifts…

Peter Sperry

Jimmy Carter championed the Presidential Management Intern (PMI) program in 1978 to prepare for the “immenent” tidal wave of government employee retirements. GHW Bush also focused some attention on this issue, as did Bill Clinton. It was concern of GW Bush in 2001. We keep preparing for a retirement tidal wave as the employee tides keep cycling in and out as they have since the beginning. In fact I believe Alexander Hamilton wrote a memo to George Washington on the subject of all the holdovers from the Continental Congress days getting ready to retire.

Michaela Holmberg

Yes it’s true that there will always be a new influx of people coming into the workforce, ready to work. My concern is more about the loss of knowledge and experience that comes when you lose a large chunck of your executive workforce. We are not learning from our past mistakes; the pendulum keeps swinging from one extreme to the other. My thoughts are that if we plan far enough in advance for the upcoming boomer retirement, we can find a way to keep the best of the best to train the next influx of workers. Or at least something to retain the knowledge that is inevitably lost with a retiring workforce.


I am intrigued with your notion that once the stock market climbs up people may use that as a way to get out at the top. Kind of intriguing.

My guess coincides with yours that somewhere in a couple years we will start seeing the exodus.

The additional issue is that while boomers want to cycle in and out of employment government is not really set up to do this. So my hypothesis is that baby boomer government employees will officially retire from government service. But use government consulting as a way to cycle in and out and work part-time in government.

I’ve seen this happen with about 6 family friends who are boomers and former public servants and all moved to government consulting (part-time or seasonal).