“[T]here is one and only one social responsibility of business—to use its resources and engage in activities designed to increase its profits so long as it stays within the rules of the game.”
-Milton Friedman, Capitalism and Freedom, 1962
“Society is demanding that companies, both public and private, serve a social purpose. 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.”
-Larry Fink, CEO BlackRock, Letter to Shareholders, 2018
2018 marked the beginnings of seismic shifts in work, the workplace, and the economy. Aging workers were both objects and subjects of these changes. Trends that had been underway for decades reared up in dramatic fashion. A steady stream of studies, articles, and polemics that warned of the coming Boomer exodus from the workplace became a tsunami warning of an impending, well, tsunami.
The obvious business “disruptions” are just the tip of the iceberg
As the year went on, the terms “ageism”, “age discrimination” and “aging out” showed up in the pages of the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times, and USA Today, and on TV shows from CNBC to CBS This Morning. The perils of under-funded retirements and the need to work longer were starting to be seen as urgent.
Meanwhile, parallel trends emerged on issues of sexual harassment, gun control, and healthcare. All of these long-simmering challenges came to a head with #MeToo, the Parkland shootings and response, and the mid-term elections. In each case, victims of flawed social policy came together to demand action.
When employers are part of the problem, they must be part of the solution
In seeking change, each of these movements has focused not just on public policy, but also on corporate accountability as well. Changing company behavior has become part of the proposed solutions.
The Parkland students have targeted gun manufacturers and their products, in addition to their demands for background checks. The year of #MeToo began with a multitude of individual sexual abuse allegations but ended with 20,000 Google employees protesting their employer’s $90 million dollar payout to an abuser. The assaults on health care coverage ended in electoral victory for health insurance protection—and an emerging campaign to confront and rein in pharmaceutical pricing.
On the aging worker front, a series of exposés and lawsuits identified companies that were engaging in wholesale replacements of their aging workforces with younger staff. Peter Gosselin’s ProPublica piece “Cutting ‘Old Heads’ at IBM” documented IBM’s cost-driven campaign to oust its older workers, inspiring the beginnings of collective action at IBM and elsewhere against systematic age discrimination.
Respectful Exits organizes for change and builds “ThePhazer™”
Respectful Exits formed in 2017 as the “Voice of Aging Workers.” We recognized that unless at-risk employees of all ages joined together to insist on long-overdue changes, millions of Americans who had contributed to America’s great wealth would not share in the potential prosperity it could offer. A better balance between wages, pensions, and personal savings on one hand, and earnings to shareholders on the other, is in order.
On many fronts, employers are confronting the need to change their practices. These systemic discussions have emerged recently and are likely to be widely debated in a thousand forums in 2019 and beyond.
But there is a need for immediate change as well as long-term policy prescriptions. While we continue to build a campaign of assertive supporters to encourage broader employer change, hundreds of fearful older workers need change now.
A great success of Respectful Exits in 2018 was undertaking the development of ThePhazer™—a tool to enable aging workers to propose extended work and flexible and phased retirement. Widespread use of ThePhazer will provide a practical step toward reducing the economic challenges facing today’s and tomorrow’s retirees.'Widespread use of ThePhazer will provide a practical step toward reducing the economic challenges facing today’s and tomorrow’s retirees.'Click To Tweet
Thanks to the generous support of donors large and small, by year end we raised our goal of $25,000 to facilitate the development of this powerful self-help toolkit. Ready for launch later this month, it will provide a step-by-step roadmap to new and better ways of working for aging employees.
Your support has been vital in this process—and we look forward to your continued collaboration in the next stages of this important campaign.
Happy New Year!