Passion, Purpose, and Impact: The Encore Secret Sauce

Posted Wednesday, April 6th, 2016 | Comments Off on Passion, Purpose, and Impact: The Encore Secret Sauce rule

Jim Emerman
Jim Emerman Executive Vice President,
Guest Blogger, The Center on Aging & Work at Boston College

About a year ago, I asked in AGEnda if wisdom that deepens with age, when joined with a passion for leaving the world a better place, translate into a unique path to social impact. Is there a special “encore career” secret sauce, one that allows someone with maturity and the desire to give back to have a super-sized impact?

At the time,, where I work, was embarking on research to see whether programs that use what we call “encore talent” experience forms of impact that make a sometimes unexpected and often substantial difference.

Two recent reports suggest the answer is yes.

Masters in Service to Society

The first, “The Encore Talent Impact Project: A Study of Encore Talent at Work,” reports on the observations of more than 100 supervisors and managers in social-purpose organizations on the impact of nearly 1,700 people in encore roles. One of the biggest surprises from the data is that many introduced improvements conventionally associated with the work of full-time, paid staff—such as contributing new approaches, tools, and ideas to the organization.

The second, “Doing Good by Doing Well: Encore Fellows Build Nonprofits’ Capacity to Serve Children and Youth,” reports on three case studies. The author, Jacquelyn B. James, co-director of Boston College’s Center on Aging and Work (which hosts the AGEnda blog), teases out the dynamics whereby Encore fellows (participants in the Encore Fellowships Network, who serve one-year, stipended fellowships) combine business skills acquired over decades in the private sector with personal attributes to deliver exceptional value to the organizations they serve. For example, across all three cases, she noted that the fellows brought an ability to organize networks and groups, patience with process, good listening and negotiation skills, and a generally high level of emotional maturity.

Here’s that recipe for the “encore secret sauce.” The attributes that Dr. James observed are reflected precisely in the literature on mastery. And when we asked the respondents in our Encore Talent Impact survey whether the characteristics of mastery were present in the people they supervised, very high percentages said they were. For example,  more than 80 percent of these encore engagements were carried out by people who “successfully explained, mentored, coached and built relationships with others. 

Opening the Door to Encore Talent

It’s important to recognize that these characteristics, so tied to our notions of wisdom, translate into impact at a time when many people are rethinking the so-called “retirement years,” seeking instead to use their time and accumulated experience to improve their communities or to help future generations succeed.

We also know that often, abundant desire does not find its match in opportunity. According to 2014 research, 21.5 million people hope to move into social-purpose encore roles. But stubborn barriers still keep experienced adults from making the most of their talents in organizations that could benefit from them. Ageist stereotypes about the productivity of older people, whether in volunteer or paid roles, persist. And many nonprofits still won’t gamble on people coming to them from a corporate background. “They won’t fit in our culture,” they say.

It’s time to break down the barriers that keep talented people who want to serve from contributing to the nonprofit sector, which badly needs their talents. Nonprofits that understand the “secret sauce” of wisdom, experience, and mastery will welcome encore-stage adults in service of their mission. As these two reports illustrate, they’ll reap significant gains.

Do Purpose and Passion Add Up to Impact?

Posted Wednesday, March 11th, 2015 | Comments (2) rule


Jim EmermanExecutive Vice President,
Guest Blogger, The Center on Aging & Work at Boston College





Time after time, in survey after survey, my own cohort of Baby Boomers, as well as people into their 70s and beyond, express a powerful impulse towards finding and serving a purpose beyond themselves.  The organization I work for,, is built upon our belief that a largely untapped human resource for effecting social change flows from that sense of purpose.

But what’s the connection between wanting to make a difference and actually making one?  My own thinking got a jolt last fall when I read Jonathan Rauch’s fascinating cover story in The Atlantic, “The Real Roots of Midlife Crisis,” a savvy romp through a slew of research on happiness in later life.

Rauch begins by reviewing research into the well-known U-curve of lifetime happiness: Happiness bottoms out around age 50 and starts climbing after that. After discovering that this phenomenon cuts across geographies, cultures and other primate species, Rauch digs into its possible biological, psychological and evolutionary roots.  Rauch first cites Stanford psychologist (and board member), Laura Carstensen, on where people find satisfaction in later life: “As people age and time horizons grow shorter, people invest in what is most important, typically meaningful relationships, and derive increasingly greater satisfaction from these investments.

Rauch next recaps the work of Dilip Jeste and other researchers who are using functional-MRI brain scans to understand if older adults’ brains are wired for wisdom. Among the traits found to correlate with older age: greater compassion, less competitiveness, reduced regret for things one cannot change, greater social reasoning, improved long-term decision making and greater comfort with uncertainty and ambiguity.

And here is where the trail leads us: The purposeful desire to achieve social impact (throughout the life course) and the accretion of wisdom and the experience of greater happiness with the passage of time are accepted truths. Of course, for many people, social impact is channeled through their immediate social circle, for instance, as grandparents. This raises a crucial question: Do these wisdom traits, when joined with a passion for leaving the world a better place, translate into a unique path to social impact?

My answer: Yes. In my work over the last decade I’ve regularly witnessed the truth of this proposition. I’ve been privileged to read the stories of, and often meet, nearly 500 women and men recognized by The Purpose Prize, our program recognizing social innovators over the age of 60. Their deep empathy, lack of ego and willingness to risk failure for causes they deeply believe in is the existential ‘glue’ that unifies Purpose Prize winners and fellows, no matter where they live or what they do. It’s easy to see how those characteristics might translate into impact.

I’ve observed similar arcs for the more than 500 individuals that has placed in Encore Fellowships in nonprofit organizations since 2009. These fellowships are meant to bridge the transition from a private sector career to work that’s focused on social purpose and impact. The evidence to date is anecdotal but enthusiastic: Numerous testimonials from nonprofit leaders acclaim the efficacy of these one-year encore fellowships in creating transformational change.

This year, we hope to balance the anecdotes with analysis. Three studies are under way here that will shine a light on the purpose-impact connection. With Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, the psychologist best known for the theory of flow, Claremont Graduate University professor Jeanne Nakamura is leading a team at the Quality of Life Research Center that is looking at the characteristics and pathways of social innovators who have been Purpose Prize winners and fellows. And in two related projects, one in partnership with organizations in our network that help people find encore roles and the other with Boston College, is studying two broad questions:  What types of impact are created by individuals serving in paid and pro-bono/volunteer encore roles? Second, is there a correlation between impact and personal characteristics most often associated with maturity, that were apparent in the individuals carrying out these encore roles?

Stay tuned for the results. And if you know of any research or have thoughts on the through-line between life experience, purpose and social impact, I’d love to hear from you.

New SHRM Survey Finds That Many Organizations Are Unprepared for the Impact of Demographic Changes in the Workforce

Posted Wednesday, January 14th, 2015 | Comments (3) rule

Manager, Workplace Trends and Forecasting,
Society for Human Resource Management
Research Fellow,
Center on Aging & Work at Boston College

Given the recent discussions about skills shortages and recruiting difficulties in the popular business media and among many business leaders, you might be surprised to know that over half of businesses and organizations are either not aware of a demographic shift towards an aging workforce or are not actively taking steps to prepare for the impact of these changes. This finding comes from a recent SHRM Research survey of HR professionals, which also found that currently few HR professionals believe the potential loss of talent due to retirement of workers is considered crisis or even problem in their industry.

The survey is part of a three-year initiative undertaken by The Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) and the SHRM Foundation, and supported by a grant from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation. The goals of this project are to highlight the value of older workers and identify the best practices for employing an aging workforce. So far, the survey has uncovered an apparent lack of concern about losing a key source of organizational talent.

SHRM’s analysis of the steps that organizations are currently taking to prepare for the future can be seen in the chart below. About one-third of respondents (36%) said their organization was preparing for the projected increase in the proportion of older workers in the labor force by “beginning to examine internal policies and management practices to address this change”. One-fifth (19%) of respondents indicated their organization was just becoming aware of this potential change in the ratio of older workers, and another 10% are unaware of potential change. In contrast, about 13% have proposed or implemented policies or management practices, and one-fifth (20%) indicated their organization has examined their workforce and determined that no changes in their policies and practices are necessary,

What could explain the disconnect between changing workforce demographics and HR activities? It may be that there is a lack of clarity about when and how these changes will take effect within a given industry and organizations. Only about half of HR professionals said their organization tracks the percentage of employees eligible to retire in the next 1-2 years and even fewer forecast workforce demographics beyond that time frame. Around 20% or fewer organizations have done workforce assessments around the loss of workers aged 55+, identifying future workforce needs and potential skills gaps in the six years and beyond timeframe.

Overall, the findings suggest that many organizations may not be fully aware of the various ways these demographic shifts will influence their organizations. Additional SHRM research in the series looks at how those organizations that are responding to these demographic shifts are adjusting their recruiting and retention strategies to specifically target older workers and about the skills and experience HR professionals most value in older workers.

For more information about the SHRM/SHRM Foundation Older Workers initiative go to and

Figure 1:
How Organizations Are Preparing for the Projected Increase in the Proportion of Older Workers in the Labor Force

blog image How Organizations Are Preparing for the Projected Increase in the Proportion of Older Workers in the Labor Force
1 “According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, workers 55 years of age and over are projected to make up approximately 26% of the labor force by the year 2022, compared to 21% in 2012 and 14% in 2002. As the proportion of older workers increases, the potential impact resulting from the loss of their knowledge and experience may become more substantial. Which of the following best describes your organization’s preparation for this change?”

Change Is Coming to the Workforce: Will You Run Towards It, or Will You Run Away?

Posted Wednesday, November 12th, 2014 | Comment (1) rule

Jim Emerman

Executive Vice President,
Guest Blogger, The Center on Aging & Work at Boston College


Maybe because it’s my personal cause célèbre — not to mention my full-time job, as executive VP at, a national nonprofit that aims to channel the skills of people in and beyond midlife for the greater good — but I’m always asking people what they’ll do next, if they plan to retire. Even when their plans include some time off, many people want to stay engaged with the wider world and make a constructive difference — and also recognize the need for continued income, even if it’s not their current full-time salary.

But too often, the conversation hits a dead end right there. As much as we like the idea of a ‘second act,’ few of us have given much thought to what our own second act might actually be. Retirement can look more like falling off a cliff than stepping onto a launch pad.

It’s unfortunate that companies large and small don’t offer much help to their employees in planning life beyond retirement. Often, assistance is bare-bones: a brief financial seminar or potential tuition reimbursement. But few corporations offer a structured program to help retirement-eligible employees negotiate the transition.

That’s the conclusion of new research by The Conference Board and, which surveyed 91 employers to find out how they helped employees with these transitions. The answer: Not much.

Only 25% of employers do anything at all. Of those, only one in five — or 5% — have anything resembling a structured transition program.

We asked why companies don’t do more to help their employees move into their next chapter. The overwhelming reason: The transition to post-company life simply wasn’t a strategic priority.

Well, maybe not yet. But, as the report indicates, it should be — especially for companies that employ older workers. With Baby Boomers moving into what’s been considered the traditional retirement years, companies will soon confront very real challenges in managing their talent — both the employees they seek to retain and those who are ready to move on.

One of the most prominent benefits to companies like Intel, HP, IBM and a company called YourEncore (created for a consortium that includes P&G, Boeing and Eli Lilly), which have transition-planning programs, is a better toolset to develop and manage talent. These tools yield employees who are more engaged as they approach retirement, with a clearer sense of what can follow. In their second acts, they serve as ambassadors for their companies in the community, and they inspire loyalty among employees whose future second acts might be decades away. presented this research at our Encore2014 conference. The conversation included human-resources leaders from the corporate and nonprofit sectors, who agreed that transition-support programs were valuable resources. Last month, I joined Julie Wirt, Intel’s global retirement design manager, in a Conference Board webcast, where you can learn how Intel views the program and what it took to set it up.

One of the Encore 2014 panelists, Lisa Taylor, founder of Challenge Factory, shared a useful analogy. Growing up in a town laced with railroad crossings, Lisa learned that when a car is stalled on the tracks and a train is approaching, you should, perhaps counter-intuitively, run towards the train. That way, you’re less likely to be hit by flying debris.

With the “oncoming train” of changing workplace demographics barreling down the track, companies that run towards the train, anticipating the needs of employees who are looking for their next chapter, will avert the “flying debris” — and come out ahead, by retaining valuable talent for whom incentives make a powerful difference.

As Amber Wiseley, Intel’s Retirement Design Strategist for the Americas, noted at the conference, companies need any tool they can get their hands on to manage talent and make sure their workforce remains as motivated and productive as possible in a time when every dollar spent comes under scrutiny.

Moving from Ideas to Action: Growing Interest in Encore Careers

Posted Wednesday, August 6th, 2014 | Comments (10) rule

Jim Emerman

Executive Vice President,
Guest Blogger, Sloan Center on Aging & Work, Boston College


There is growing evidence to show that people are warm to the idea of encore careers—post-midlife work or pro bono service to meet community needs. Yet despite that interest, people aren’t easily moving from thinking to doing. What will it take to move more people from ideas into action? That’s the urgent question that surfaced in’s 2014 national survey, which asked people 50 to 70 years old about their post-midlife plans, aspirations and concerns.

Interest in encore careers rose by 17% from 2011 to 2014, according to national surveys conducted by and Penn Schoen Berland. These gains are coupled with demonstrably less concern about encore income and threats to personal flexibility, both identified as major obstacles in 2011—and relatively minor concerns three years later.

Nevertheless, the view that post-midlife is a time to use one’s personal skills and experience to help others is still held by twice as many people (55%) as are ready to take action to make an encore the defining feature of their own next stage (28%). Society needs the contributions of that other half. What will it take to better convert this belief into action?

Lowering perceived barriers to encore careers is one important step and it looks like there’s been some progress on this front in the last three years.

For example, fewer people with a high level of encore interest say that the economy would make it hard to move into encore work. That could make sense. After all, the job market has been strengthening, albeit slowly. As the economy continues to gain strength, we might hope that the options for people to move into work that speaks to their need for purpose and social impact will also improve.

Further evidence: In 2011, 30% of those interested in an encore career had significant concerns that a next act focused on social impact wouldn’t provide the income they needed. This concern was among the top barriers just three years ago. In 2014, it dropped to one of the least significant obstacles.

In 2011, fear that moving into an encore career would mean a loss of flexibility in taking care of other important needs, like family care-giving, was quite high. Three years later the percentage of those most interested in an encore career and who were quite concerned about this dropped by two-thirds. It’s possible that this relates to the diminishing concerns around income since people may believe that they can now afford to have jobs that allow them the flexibility they need. It’s also possible that there is a growing perception of greater workplace flexibility, perhaps especially in the nonprofit sector.

Fear of age discrimination remains a significant concern, although it dropped too. The continuing concern wasn’t a surprise. At, we sometimes feel inundated with horror stories of older people shunned in their job searches. They are no doubt true and the stats about people over 50 who have been out of work the longest remain depressingly high.

The lesson here is that we need to combat age discrimination more vigorously by raising awareness of the value experienced workers bring. More broadly, we need to make the case that people in encore careers need to be part of the human talent mix in any organization tackling big challenges where experience is an asset.

What about the obstacles that socio-economic concerns pose for those interested in encore careers?

I was pleasantly surprised to see that perceived barriers dropped across all income levels.
Still, there is greater concern among the lowest earners than among those in higher income brackets. And some issues pose greater challenges to those with lower educational levels. Those with only some college expressed more concern than those who had completed college about their own confidence in trying something new, the need to learn new technologies, their health, age discrimination and the state of the economy.

Clearly, investing in those who haven’t yet completed college needs to be a priority for the encore movement. The growth of programs addressing the 50+ population in community colleges is a positive sign, but there is much more that can be done in this arena. There’s a role for four-year colleges and universities here, too, as they bring encore-type programs to their continuing education offerings. Completing college is often a step in social mobility that can happen at any age.

Perhaps the biggest lesson is that work allowing people to use their talents and decades of experience to improve their communities cannot be limited to any single socio-economic stratum. The desire to make a difference spans the gamut from those with low income and few assets to those with more resources.

With some of the most significant concerns that have held people back from pursing their encores appear to be lessening, we need to do everything we can to make sure that the opportunities are there for those who want them. It’s a human resource our society cannot afford to waste. Please comment. We welcome your thoughts.