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.”
firstname.lastname@example.org, Twitter: TelegramDaniel