A smart way to fix Social Security, and many other things

Everybody's worried about the Social Security system running out of money. Perhaps it's time to consider the value in extending workplace opportunities to people in what would have normally been considered at or approaching their "retirement" years. Not only enrichment for senior professionals, but also enrichment for their employers, and society at large.

Last year, for example, The New York Times ran an article pointing out that there's a lot of value to society in keeping people on the job, in both generating more tax revenues and less strain on the Social Security and Medicare system:

“The emphatic conclusion of recent research into retirement policy and labor markets is that working another two or three years would have a surprisingly powerful impact on the retirement living standards of millions of boomers and on the economy. The economic gains, according to a report published this month by the McKinsey Global Institute, a research group, would include increased household savings, higher tax collections and a reduction of the fiscal strain on Social Security and Medicare; together, that would add an estimated $13 trillion to the economy by 2025, or about a year’s total output of goods and services today.”

When it comes to age-related issues and the workplace, unfortunately, outmoded thinking still prevails. There are still outdated and counter-productive prejudices about hiring employees over 50.

There is plenty of evidence about the advantages of hiring and retaining “older” workers. There is also the convergence of work and life, and why work should be an ongoing source of meaning, learning, and inspiration, regardless of age.

There's a huge pool of experienced and willing talent for organizations to tap as well. Frank Burns, writing in Federal Times, cites research compiled by the Center on Aging and Work at Boston College that finds in the time period between 2002 and 2012, there will have been only a one percent increase in the labor force participation of people aged 20 to 24, a 12 percent increase in those 25 to 34, 10 percent increase among those 35 to 44, and a 10 percent decrease in those 45 to 54. However, there will be a 48 percent increase in the number of U.S. workers 55 to 64 and a 40 percent increase in those 65 and older. These are numbers too big to ignore.

Burns also cites a 2007 survey of employers by the Center on Aging and Work finds their experiences very positive with older employees. A majority agree older employees "tend to have positive attributes such as high skill levels, professional and client networks, and a desire to lead or supervise."

Also, consider the role information technology and online communities can play in expanding opportunities for professionals of all ages.  The workplace is quickly evolving from a structured 9-to-5 environment to more of an open, participative community, linked by common interests and interlocking skills. These communities are global in nature, stretching well beyond corporate cubicle environments to home offices, remote locations, and anywhere anyone is using a mobile, connected device. There’s opportunity for everyone with the right skills, unencumbered by biases and archaic thinking.  And leveraging this diverse community of skills and human resources is a smart idea not only for corporations, but for society as well.

This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com