Is age just a number? Lessons from Jay Leno’s departure

I’m beginning to feel my age. Last night, a good friend celebrated a milestone birthday (I won’t say which milestone, but you can probably guess). His wife asked everyone to come in 1970s garb or as a character from the decade, so I went as J.R. Ewing. Our babysitter (born in 1995) had no idea who J.R. was. Deflated, I sighed and quoted Journey’s classic rock ballad, “The Wheel in the Sky Keeps on Turning.”    shutterstock_96916121

She didn’t get that one, either.

Speaking of age, the New York Times recently addressed Jay Leno’s retirement from the Tonight Show. (I’m afraid to ask whether our babysitter knows about Johnny Carson.) Leno is surrendering his seat at age 63 to 39-year-old Jimmy Fallon, and the Times took the event as a springboard to examine some of Leno’s contemporaries and their views on retirement.

For personnel leaders, I think several realizations are important to avoid age from becoming more than just a personal concern:

(1)  Retirement is occurring later. The Times article quotes a study that the average age at which people stop seeking work is now around age 61, up from 59 in 2003 and 57 in 1993. Demographically and economically, I suppose no one should be surprised. In the last 13 years, the United States has witnessed two stock market crashes, which depleted some retirement savings. Additionally, the swell of Boomers approaching retirement, and the lesser numbers in later generations, will strain Social Security and Medicare, and age of eligibility has and is sure to increase. As a result, HR managers should prepare to handle generational differences between relatively younger workers and older workers who are sticking around longer.

(2)  Retirement is not necessarily a choice. In the Times article, Jay Leno remarked, “It’s not my decision,” when asked about his retirement. His experience is similar to many other unplanned retirements. Folks in their fifties and sixties may not be ready to retire. They may still be good at their jobs. They may still be productive. They may still be healthy and energetic. They’ve got valuable years of experience. Why wouldn’t they want to stick around and why wouldn’t their employers want them?

The Times asserted the answer often lies in the fact that older workers cost more in terms of salary and benefits, so that “metric-centric” employers may find themselves deciding whether to trim older employees as well during reductions in force. However, any reduction in force can be a perilous business, and the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) and the Older Workers’ Benefit Protection Act (OWBPA) up the ante significantly if a company downsizes to the detriment of its older workers.

HR managers should step carefully and be sure to seek guidance on their ADEA and OWBPA obligations. For example, do you know whether your severance agreements are OWBPA-compliant?  Do you know the last time the OWBPA language was reviewed? Do you have any idea what I’m talking about? If the answer to any of those questions is “no,” you need to take a look at your severance agreements and RIF practices.

(3)  Creative employers can take advantage of the available talent.  Jay Leno didn’t want to retire, and believes he can still bring an audience. I think he’s right, and some network will capitalize on his newfound availability.

You can do the same. Experienced folks with talent and skill are hitting the market. Plenty of them are going to be looking for employment, whether on a permanent, short-term, or independent contractor basis; in fact, many retirees go through the “revolving door” and wind up back in their same position as a contractor. Do not overlook this talent pool, but remember that regulatory agencies at all levels are scrutinizing independent contractor relationships. Be sure to audit these relationships so the revolving door doesn’t send a liability walking in.

1 thought on “Is age just a number? Lessons from Jay Leno’s departure”

  1. Good luck to Jay Leno. Although I never liked his show, I do appreciate his willingness to retire. Retirement is a difficult road. Even if you make it to the happy hunting ground you will have difficulty accepting the feelings of irrelevant and unwelcome. I am sure he will be able to explain this comment later in his retirement.

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