Interviewing Paul Rupert, Pioneer in Transforming Retirement

The following is based on an interview, conducted by Janice Gallick, Associate Director of Respectful Exits, with Paul Rupert, Executive Director of Respectful Exits.

Question: “Respectful Exits” sounds good. What’s so disrespectful about the way we treat older workers and retirement now?

Answer: Our employers and most of us are stuck in a 100 year-old model of work: 1) get educated through high school or college; 2) work for 30 or 40 years; 3) retire around 65; 4) pursue hobbies. The problem: today’s longevity revolution will have millennials able to work into their 80s or 90s. We need to tear up the old assumptions and rethink the way we work.

A great new documentary (If you’re not in the obit, eat breakfast) highlights Carl Reiner and a crew of witty, productive, still working nonagenarians [yes, 90+ year-olds] They are the tip of the iceberg. They blow up old assumptions. They have earned our support and respect. We can’t afford, and don’t want to bow to a dysfunctional and random “sell-by” date that squanders such talent. Wasting the potential and ignoring the needs of older workers is the height of disrespect.

Question: And what is Respectful Exits?

Answer: We launched Respectful Exits as a force to transform retirement in our lifetimes. The campaign began with a group of passionate older workers committed to changing the trajectory of work and retirement for themselves and their peers. Our goals include extending and phasing out of work without arbitrary deadlines.

Question: Haven’t Diversity & Inclusion initiatives tackled these problems?

Answer: Generally not. One recent example:  top CEOs have formed a coalition called the CEO ACT!on for Diversity & Inclusion to highlight and share best practices. Their catalog of victims of discrimination and exclusion reveal a common but unacceptable omission: older workers do not make the cut for inclusion.

According to the group’s pledge:

[W]e believe we also need to address honestly and head-on the concerns and needs of our diverse employees and increase equity for all, including Blacks, Latinos, Asians, Native Americans, LGBTQ, disabled, veterans and women.”

As our workforces mature, there are older workers in each of these groups facing the unique venom of age discrimination. But here, as in most places, their challenges are not recognized or called out. We intend to change that.

Question: So what do you want people to do?

Answer: Changing the way millions of people work and tens of thousands of employers see them is no modest task. Success will require the combined efforts of at least three distinct groups: general supporters, assertive employees and responsive employers. Each of these groups can play a specific and powerful role, spelled out on the campaign page of our website. As a growing number of people and organizations do their part, we will become a strong voice for older workers and their fair treatment.

Question: But I have to ask a question you’ve probably heard more than once: “Doesn’t AARP already do that?”

Answer: The simple answer is “No.” AARP is a large, membership services organization focused on retirees. It works with dozens of insurers and others securing discounted services for their members, challenging age discrimination in general and promoting second acts for those forced out of the workforce. Strongly challenging workplace practices such as premature retirement and inflexible exits is not their priority. In contrast, it is our focus and passion.

Question: This is a major undertaking. Do you see positive signs in today’s social and business climate?

Answer: There are a number of trends encouraging a serious re-examination of how we treat older works and retirement. Demography, data, longevity and economic necessity all argue for this change. More and more older workers are demanding an end to premature termination and the provision of flexible off-ramps. There is a growing recognition that tight labor markets and the loss of uniquely experienced and knowledgeable long-term employees are beginning to take their toll in the knowledge economy.

Academics and pundits have been warning of the impending Boomer tsunami for a decade. Older worker advocates and public officials have added their voices. As government retirement and medical supports are being threatened or eroded, business leaders have begun to join the chorus.

This month Larry Fink, founder and CEO of the $6.3 trillion asset manager BlackRock, sent his annual letter to shareholders and clients on January 16. It fueled active discussion among the global elite at Davos last week. In the wake of unequalled business profitability, a massive corporate tax cut and discussions about possible reductions in Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, this leading investor wrote:

“To prosper over time, every company must not only deliver financial performance, but also show how it makes a positive contribution to society. Companies must benefit all of their stakeholders, including shareholders, employees, customers, and the communities in which they operate.”

He has staffed an internal group to encourage and assess client plans and achievements in the arena of social impact. All of these factors bode well for our campaign to redirect resources and commitments to the older workforce and retirees. Please join us and do your part in this exciting and timely campaign.

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