Social Reality, Engagement and Performance

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Grodnitzky, Ph.D.
March 27, 2023

I live in a building with many retired people. That doesn’t mean they’re old; they’re just retired.  They have chosen to follow the traditional social reality that retirement should start at age 65.

This social reality was created in 1935 when President Roosevelt signed the Social Security Act.  At the time, it seemed like a good solution, given the ravages of the Great Depression and the desire to encourage an aging workforce to retire and make space for younger workers. At the time that the Social Security Act was passed, the most recent complete U.S. Census was from 1930. It found the life expectancy for U.S. men was 58. For women, it was 62. If you were born in 1930, you weren’t expected to see Social Security! It was created for those people who lived beyond the typical life expectancy.

The expectation that developed after Social Security was that when people turned 65, they would retire, move to a warm climate, play golf, spend time with their grandchildren, and prepare for a long decline. This has been a social reality created and supported by our society for almost 100 years. A change in this social reality has already begun.

The New Social Reality of Retirement

Over the past 100 years, life expectancies for both men and women have continued to increase.  People are leading longer and healthier lives.

The U.S. Census Bureau projects that by the year 2030, 20% of Americans will be 65 or older.  Baby Boomers continue to retire — at the rate of up to 10,000 per day. But they are not moving into traditional retirement. They are creating a new social reality.

CoGenerate, founded by Marc Freedman, is a nonprofit that sponsors Encore Fellowships — a “gap year for adults.” The goal is to take the experience of Boomers and give them the skills to do work in an area with social impact.

Some are choosing to work beyond 65 because of financial need. Many others remain in the workforce because of drive or passion. Many want to continue to contribute, staying in the workforce beyond the traditional retirement age of 65. This is the new social reality.  

So, what does this mean for business?

Establishing a Performance-Based Social Reality

Social reality for retirement is changing, as more and more people work beyond the traditional retirement age created almost 100 years ago. Observing that shift can help leaders create a path to increasing performance in organizations.

A recent Gallup survey found that only 32% of 67,000 employees surveyed were fully engaged, while 18% were actively disengaged (bare minimum Mondays, quiet quitting, etc). It’s not that employees want to be disengaged. I would submit it’s just the opposite. Employees want to be engaged. It’s up to employers to create social realities with cultures that offer engagement.

Therefore, employee engagement is your new competitive advantage. Just as Boomers are staying in the workforce for positions that offer them meaning and significance, and they are registering for programs to help them have social impact, employees want employers to create an engaged workforce.

How to Create Engagement and Increase Performance

For a fully engaged workforce, you need a performance-based culture that rewards and focuses on engagement.

Here are seven questions you can begin to discuss with your leadership team — today!. They focus on areas that have been proven to increase employee engagement. See how your team answers these questions, and then have them ask the same questions of their direct reports.

  1. Why do we do the work we do here? How does what we do affect people and society? (Cause/meaning/impact)
  2. What metrics do we need to be able to offer you and your team greater autonomy without sacrificing performance? (Autonomy)
  3. What skill sets can we help you develop in the next 12 months? (Growth)
  4. How many people do you work with that you would consider close friends?  (Connection)
  5. What are you supposed to be doing everyday? (Clarity)
  6. How are you recognized for your work? (Recognition)
  7. How do you know whether your team members are all moving in the same direction? (Collaboration)

Just as the new social reality of retirement in the U.S. started with a few people and then spread, employee engagement will grow incrementally at your organization. Start asking these questions of your leadership team. Then pose them to employees who are already engaged, then with the less engaged, etc. Build your culture around the answers that create engagement. Develop metrics and reward and recognition programs that support fully engaged employees.

As you build your culture for engagement, your social reality will follow, as will performance.

I’d love to hear your questions and comments. If you would like to discuss this topic further, just drop me a note

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