Encore Careers: The Redefinition of Late-Stage Careers

Encore Career .BlogHave you ever attended a performance that was so good you wanted it to continue? Demanding an encore, a repeated or extended performance, is the means to express that desire. Let’s explore the use of an encore as a metaphor for the redefinition of a late-stage career.

The perception of “career” has clearly changed. Traditional career models looked like a ladder: a fixed sequence of increasingly responsible roles over time within one disciplinary track. The assumption was that a person’s primary affiliation was to one discipline, that employment with an organization would last over the long term, and aspiration to higher levels of responsibility was a given. A person generally retired at age 65.   

The modern career model looks like a lattice or framework of vertical and horizontal tracks. Career movement can occur in multiple directions. A person may take on higher levels of responsibility, step back from management into an individual contributor role, leave the workforce temporarily for educational or family reasons, or transfer skills and experience to a different role altogether. Flexible career options, greater work-life balance, and more interesting and meaningful work appeal to today’s highly diverse employees with longer working lives.      

Baby Boomers, born between 1946 and 1964, are a significant subset of today’s workforce. The last of the Baby Boomers will reach age 65 in the year 2029, just 14 years from now. Baby Boomers are living longer, healthier lives. At the same time, employers anticipate a shortage of skilled workers from younger generations. The combination of these two factors will create a demand for Baby Boomers to continue working. Here is where the concept of an encore careers fits in.

An encore career is a late-stage phase that combines continued income with more meaningful and impactful work. Socially conscious Baby Boomers who are not ready to retire may be receptive to roles allowing them to draw on their extensive knowledge, skill, and experience in new, more “purpose-driven” ways. Encore careers allow Baby Boomers to redefine the concept of age, work, and retirement. For example, instead of retiring, a private-sector employee may take on a role at a nonprofit organization, or an experienced subject-matter expert may turn to teaching. As employers’ high demand for specialized knowledge and skill collides with Baby Boomers’ desire to remain productive and engaged, encore careers represent a “win” for both sides.  

The risks associated with the inevitable exodus of critical talent in the next 10 to 15 years cannot go unaddressed. Employers wishing to attract and retain key talent through encore careers can take these measures:

  • Assess the degree of current and future risk from changes in your organization’s demographic and diversity profile.
  • Think about strategies and practices that support attracting, engaging, and retaining talent across all career stages.
  • Anticipate and respond to future talent needs through workforce planning, succession planning, developmental planning, and talent-management strategies and practices.
  • Recruit from broad and diverse talent pools.
  • Consider flexible work arrangements. 
  • Beware of prevailing stereotypes, biases, and obstacles that may be getting in the way of attracting, engaging, and retaining employees across age groups.
  • Employ a flexible and comprehensive total-rewards model that supports wellness, learning, development and growth.
  • Provide opportunities for volunteering and community outreach.
  • Offer retirement planning education and tools.
  • Promote knowledge transfer through knowledge management systems, training, job rotations, job sharing, job shadowing, and cross training. Use process mapping to capture and disseminate key organizational knowledge.
  • Beware of laws that impact re-hiring retirees as well as age discrimination laws.

Baby Boomers represent a huge, well educated, and highly tenured segment whose inevitable exit from the workforce represents a strategic risk for organizations that are unprepared. Organizations that embrace the concept of encore careers will be better positioned to effectively extend and realize the full potential of late-stage careers.