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The Work Dilemma of the "Tweener"

MusingsI've noticed more and more reporting on the work dilemma of the "tweener" -- the 50s-something Boomer who finds himself or herself in that strange transitional role somewhere between full-time work and retirement. Many of these younger Boomers have come to the realization that they will need to work longer than they may have anticipated simply because they need to fund living longer. Others, even if financially secure, recognize that they need to work to feel fulfilled.

A recent article in The New York Times characterizes this time of life as one in which the Boomer needs to become a "modern elder," says Chip Conley who, after running his own company for twenty-four years, was asked to mentor executives in a technology company. It put him in the unusual position of an industry expert with very little in the way of technology experience or, as the article states, "he was often the oldest person in the room, learning from colleagues who were young enough to be his children."

In his new book, Wisdom at Work: The Making of a Modern Elder, Conley further details his own experience and explores the concept of the modern elder. He believes the modern elder 's role is "simultaneously sharing wisdom while embracing fresh ideas and ways of thinking." The article's author, Marci Alboher, was inspired by Conley to seek out other role models for the modern elder, and she says she found a lot of them, all in their 50s. She admits that she also learned, however, that "it helps to have a financial safety net" if you are going to consider a more non-traditional work role such as Conley discovered.

Boomers in their 50s are often faced with this kind of dilemma, either because they are summarily dismissed from the full-time job they had for decades, or they tire of it and want a new challenge. The fundamental problem in our society is people in their 50s, 60s and 70s are thrown on the scrapheap rather than offered employment opportunities that take advantage of their years of experience. Thankfully, some companies are enlightened and work with older employees to transition them out of a full-time job to a part-time or consultative role, but that is rare. Instead, Boomer employees are discriminated against because of age. They lose the jobs they have and then cannot get another position because they are overlooked in favor of younger employees. The sad fact is that a company that terminates a Boomer employee due to age is often losing the value of the employee's considerable knowledge base.

Perhaps the "modern elder" model will take hold, but in order for that to happen, employers have to acknowledge the value of contracting with Boomers, and Boomers have to be in a position to risk taking on non-traditional employment. Still, being a modern elder presents another novel option for Boomers who need to or want to work and are excluded from the job market.

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