Academic journal article Generations

Expanding the Boundaries of Corporate Volunteerism: Tapping the Skills, Talent, and Energy of Retirees

Academic journal article Generations

Expanding the Boundaries of Corporate Volunteerism: Tapping the Skills, Talent, and Energy of Retirees

Article excerpt

Existing and potential roles for business.

In 2004, the Harvard School of Public Health and MetLife Foundation issued a report, Reinventing Aging: Baby Boomers and Civic Engagement, in which they identified three core questions that drove their work:

i. Can a national effort succeed in mobilizing members of the baby boom generation to continue to contribute their time, skills, and experience to improve our nation's communities during the second half of their lives?

2. If aging baby boomers respond in large numbers, will civic organizations be prepared to use this social capital?

3. What roles can the different sectors of society play in helping baby boomers redefine the meaning and purpose of their later years of life?

This article focuses on one of these sectors, the business sector, and examines the roles corporate America is currently playing and the roles it might play in increasing the baby boomer generation's commitment to volunteerism and civic engagement. Given the current centrality of the workplace and work to the lives of the vast majority of American adults, we believe that the business sector can and should play a pivotal role in promoting civic engagement among baby boomers as they seek to define their later adult years.

In fact, the coming tidal wave of 76 million baby boomers reaching age 65 (the traditional retirement age) in the next fifteen years has not escaped the attention of corporate America. Yet the business sector has more often cast the aging of America's workforce as a challenge rather than an opportunity. Few companies, for example, are examining how a multigenerational workforce (as four, and even five, generations in the workplace becomes increasingly common) might offer them a competitive edge in the marketplace. While American companies are increasingly acknowledging that the baby boomer generation views retirement differently compared to previous generations, they have largely been slow to change their policies to offer older employees greater flexibility in their work and retirement options. Although the recent revival of interest in community and civic engagement has also heightened concern about the proper role of business in society, or corporate social responsibility, companies are generally not thinking strategically about how to link the aging of their workforce and these new retirement trends to their corporate citizenship strategies.

Within the past decade, company volunteer programs have emerged as a core component of American businesses' social responsibility initiatives. American companies are recognizing employees as valuable resources and natural extensions of their corporate contributions or philanthropy to improve conditions in the local communities.

However current and future retirees also represent an important, albeit largely untapped, resource to corporations as they seek to tackle social and environmental problems in the nation's communities. Indeed, investing in recruitment of retirees offers many businesses the opportunity to expand the boundaries of their corporate volunteerism efforts.

Critical Trends

In addition to the sheer numbers of baby boomers entering the ranks of the retired worker population in the next several decades, three other significant trends suggest why promoting inclusion of retirees in company volunteer programs is both important and timely: the emergence of the workplace as community, new views of retirement, and the dramatic growth of company volunteer programs.

The emergence of the workplace as community. In recent years, an ongoing debate has occurred about whether we are in the midst of a decline or a resurgence of community and civic society. Foremost among scholars lamenting the passing of community is Robert Putnam; in his 2000 book, Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Renvoi of American Community, he argues that the generational shift from the World War II generation to the baby boomer generation is a leading contributor to the decline in civic engagement. …

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