Demographic shift in workplace causing headaches

Daniel MacEachern
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Rapidly aging population won’t be replaced by incoming generation — and the problem is worst in Newfoundland

Linda Duxbury, a professor at the Sprott School of Business at Carleton University spoke Thursday afternoon at the St. John's Board of Trade Business Development Summit at the Delta Hotel in St. John's.

Linda Duxbury says 40 years of plummeting birth rates combined with an aging population is causing a socio-economic crisis in Canada — and she knows who to blame.

“How many of you in this room were born 1946 to 1964? Put your hand up,” she asked a ballroom

of businesspeople at the St.

John’s Board of Trade’s annual Business Development Summit on Thursday. “

“This whole problem is your fault. It’s absolutely your fault in ever so many ways. What did you really do to cause the problem? You were born in huge numbers, and you did not have the courtesy to die young.”

Not that it’s only the baby boomers who are at fault, said the Carleton University business professor, who then asked people born after 1965 with more than four children to raise their hands. None did, and very few raised their hands for having three children.

“Two children? Zero to one child, put your hand up,” she said, which caused the most hands to go up. “You selfish, selfish young people!”

When the laughter subsided, Duxbury said the exercise illustrates the “revolution in fertility” in a nutshell — that an aging population isn’t producing enough workers to replace the Baby Boom generation, to say nothing of supporting retirees with pensions and health care.

The challenge for business, she explained, is to retain the baby boom workforce — because the numbers aren’t there to replace them with younger workers — while not alienating younger workers who have expectations for their jobs and careers that differ wildly from previous generations. People are taking longer to finish their educations and waiting longer to start families that aren’t big enough to replenish the population, and they demand a better work-life balance.

“The birth rate in the baby boom was 4.1 children per family, double the number we needed to sustain our labour force, our population, etc. But since that time, we’ve been shrinking,” she said.

Canada’s birth rate now stands at 1.5 children per family — the country hasn’t had the replacement birth rate of 2.1 children per family since 1969 — and the country is only starting to experience what a headache that will mean for the workforce.

“For the foreseeable future, for every two older people retiring, two older boomers living, you’ve only got one young person in the pipeline across Canada — you have fewer than one (in Newfoundland) — to take their place,” she said. “And who’s leaving is the suck-it-up-and-do-it, workaholic Baby Boomer. And they’re being replaced by the younger, saner, you-have-to-be-kidding-me (worker).”

The problem is even more acute in Newfoundland, said Duxbury.

“You’ve got the lowest birth rate in the country. Congratulations — you’re the first province to reach a pinnacle where there’s more deaths than births, and you’re the first province to have negative growth,” she said. “You’ve got to turn it around. Your population has aged more rapidly in the last two decades than anywhere else in Canada because of your double-whammy: one, you’ve got the lowest birth rate. Two, you’ve got the highest out-migration.”

Businesses that fail to adapt to rapidly shifting workplace demographics are going to struggle to survive, said Duxbury, adding that companies need to focus on retention as well as recruitment — and think carefully about who they want to retain.

“Every organization has three types of people: talent, about 20 per cent; solid citizens, about 70 per cent; jerks, about 10 per cent,” she said, before defining the groups. “Talent: fabulous people, get the job done, get it done well and live the values you say are important to you. Solid citizens: you’d never get the work done without them, but they don’t have that something special that makes them talent, and many of them don’t want to be talent. And then you’ve got the jerks: lazy bums, pain in the butt to work with, pain in the butt to work for.”

Then she asked the businesspeople to think about who most of their company’s policies are designed to manage.

“If your answer is ‘jerks,’ good luck,” she said. “How many of your jerks have ever left you because you’ve treated them too well? Would there be any? And who does leave? Your talent.”, Twitter: TelegramDaniel

Organizations: Board of Trade, Carleton University

Geographic location: Canada, Newfoundland

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Recent comments

  • Not Green
    January 21, 2011 - 23:01

    abreathoffreshair writes: planet under stress because of human overpopulation Don't be naive. Canada's birthrate is dangerously low (hence the need for immigration) or do you think that other countries have more right to exist than we do? I seriously recommend a look at Mark Steyn's America Alone, even just to critique it.

  • Ronald
    January 21, 2011 - 16:16

    I wanted more children, but after a trip to Unifed Family Court, I decided against it.

  • William
    January 21, 2011 - 16:11

    Why aren't couples having more children? Look no further than Unified Family Court, any male who's been there immediately books an appointment for a vasectomy.

  • Mr. T
    January 21, 2011 - 13:00

    Basically gen x & y are in big trouble. We have high student loan debt., low paying jobs starting out. Extremely high Real Estat prices, not a chance of receiving CPP (IMO) when we are ready to retire, pay for health care for the baby boomer generation, plus now we have to somehow produce 3-4 kids, and feed, house, and pay for their education. While the 'hard-working' baby boomer can't/won't retire and holds on the high-paying managment jobs, and then goofing off early to 'hit the links' and shoot a few golf balls. ABREATHOFFRESHAIR - You have a point about imigration, but that doesn't mean that people shouldn't be worried about their finances.

  • Aloha
    January 21, 2011 - 12:21

    " As a young adult or a parent I'd be thinking more about the planet that sustains us" So worry about the problems that the baby boomers caused?

  • abreathoffreshair
    January 21, 2011 - 09:43

    Not one mention of a planet under stress because of human overpopulation. Not a mention of the immigration tsunami that has been going on in Canada for the last 20yrs. As a young adult or a parent I'd be thinking more about the planet that sustains us than how my CPP will be funded. And if there is a gap to fill we should be looking for a certain age group/qualifications in immigration.

  • Ted Pikul
    January 21, 2011 - 09:22

    I guess what it all comes down to is: We Baby Boomers are doing it again, Now, we have to change the Freedom 55 paradigm back to ‘work till you drop’. Not drop because at 40 your body can’t work anymore, but keep working at 70 if you are ‘Solid Citizens’ and society needs the work to get done, but especially if you are ‘Talent’ and society needs the expertise.

  • Younger than you but poorer to
    January 21, 2011 - 08:44

    As a young worker I often wonder how my CPP will be funded once the baby boomer generation drains the pot? Will they demand more once they realize that the amount is insuficient to maintain the lifestyles they have become accustomed? How can 1 ensure 4 will get the money they deserve/want. All I can see is my deductions going up [wages remain stagnent] while my benefits will be less when adjusted for inflation. I'd say its a good thing I started my RRSP my first year out of the school.

  • james
    January 21, 2011 - 08:41

    and how much did she get paid for wonderful information that if you did not already know you must be living under a rock. some one should this person that it takes money to raise a family

    • Chris
      January 22, 2011 - 07:28

      From your comment James, I suspect you fall into the 10% category.