Successful business group with arms up at the officeSuccession planning has never been more complicated, or more important. For a good long while, a scary picture was painted for us, featuring a sort of rapture, or mass exodus of the Boomers. One day we were going to wake up and they would all be retired. Things haven’t exactly gone as predicted. Boomers are sticking around for longer, and many leaders have adopted the “let it be” mind frame.

Although it might depend where you get your information, the majority of folks are claiming that the human life span is continually getting longer. This has several implications for the landscape of our workforce. From 1900 to 2000, there has been an average life span increase of 30 years. While elongated life spans are nothing new, this trend is continuing, and therefore has to continually be accounted for.

While Boomers are projected to have longer lives, they are also far less healthy than even one generation before them. The general consensus is that Boomers are those men and women born between 1946 and 1964. This generation, on their long and winding road, has proven to be more likely to suffer from high cholesterol, high blood pressure, diabetes and obesity than those generations before them.

When we consider that humans are now living longer and less healthy lives, this has serious implications for healthcare costs, succession planning, pensions, retirement and the emerging workforce. Many Boomers are continuing to work for financial reasons, while others are simply not ready to retire yet. Whatever reason they are pushing back retirement for, it is effecting the next generation in a big way.

Do you want to know a secret? Millennials are the largest group of workers to enter (or try to enter) the workforce since the Boomers hit the scene.  The fact that Boomers are staying in the workforce longer, coupled with the recent recession, has forced Millennials to participate in the workforce in a very different way than ever before.

The economic uncertainty that met this generation as they tried to penetrate the workforce made for a totally different experience. Contracted, freelance and part-time work has quickly become the norm for Millennial workers. In a article, Rachel Bailey, a working millennial, describes her experience much in the same way that others in her generation can relate to: “It feels like my whole career is just this patchwork quilt of different jobs,” she says.

While the unemployment numbers are consistently showing improvement, no one seems to be talking about the underemployment numbers. Much unlike those before them tasked with working eight days a week, this new generation is feeling the pain of being underemployed. Temp jobs, part-time work and one-time gigs do not make a career.  While this workforce is emerging resilient and capable, they aren’t getting the stability and experience that those before them have enjoyed, and Millennials are going to carry that weight.

The “patchwork quilt of different jobs” hardly makes it sound like there will be many qualified candidates to choose from when the time actually does come. While Millennials have embraced their “free as a bird” work style, generations before them have had the opportunity to grow in a company and experience a position and organization for the long haul. It is these tenured workers that are in current leadership and executive positions.

This workforce landscape has caused a sort of cyclical relationship between employers and the emerging workforce. Millennials have learned to not depend on employers, and lean more toward the freedom and self-reliance of contracted or “gig” work. Gun-shy employers are reluctant to hire due to their experience in an uncertain economy, and the upcoming financial implications that having full-time workers on staff will mean.

As it relates to succession planning, it seems common sense to turn to Gen Y to fill those soon-to-be-open executive positions. However, due to the demographic reality of our situation, there simply won’t be enough of them.

So, while our fears about how the Boomer rapture will happen have subsided, it doesn’t mean that succession planning can be pushed to the side. Executives and leaders will eventually be leaving the workforce. Are you ready? Come together, start the dialogue and make a plan. I’ve got a feeling you’ll need one.

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