Make no mistake, in order to get ahead of the game, an employer today must plan for an aging workforce and make a strong effort to attract and retain older workers.
Recent statistics from the US Census Bureau show that by 2030, one-fifth of all US residents will be older than age 65. People are living longer, remaining in the workforce and putting off retirement as the cost of living has gone up and many still need income. Therefore, it is critical for an employer to take note of the value older workers can bring to an organization and consider the following steps to address their needs and desires within the context of workforce planning.
Recognize the Benefits of Older Workers
It is important for employers to recognize the benefits of attracting and retaining older workers in today’s global economy. Older workers can be highly valued as they bring years of knowledge, skills and experience as well as a sense of dedication, strong work ethic and loyalty to the job in the context of a multigenerational workforce.
Older workers also can improve workplace diversity and inclusion and make an employer more competitive as an organization is better able to connect with a growing base of older customers. In addition, these workers often are able to provide leadership and mentoring to younger generations.
Look to Recruit Older Workers
As part of recruiting and hiring efforts, an employer should make a concerted effort to hire older workers who may bring valuable skills to the team. An employer may want to consider:
• Reaching out to AARP and other organizations where older workers are looking for opportunities;
• Using word of mouth referrals and personal connections;
• Creating a formal program to target older candidates;
• Avoiding terms like “digital native,” “recent grads,” “college student,” “young and energetic” in any job advertisements or job descriptions; and
• Steering clear of biased questions during the interviewing process which may be viewed as age discrimination.
Ultimately, the goal should be to find the best individual for the position the employer is seeking to fill.
Offer Appealing Benefits
Part of attracting and retaining older workers means offering benefits that they find appealing and useful. Benefits may include:
• Comprehensive healthcare benefits;
• Long term and short term disability;
• 401(k) plans;
• Retirement benefits;
• Financial planning and investment counseling;
• Elder care support (to assist workers with aging parents);
• Wellness programs;
• Onsite child care for grandchildren; and
• Gym memberships.
An employer should also ensure that all benefits are effectively communicated to employees in the employee handbook or through other communication channels.
Offer Reasonable Accommodations
While older workers may be able to continue doing the work they have always done, age-related illnesses, conditions or health issues may prevent them from working to the capacity and extent they once did.
Additionally, some older workers may have a disability under the Americans with Disabilities Act and relevant state and local laws. Therefore, it may be a good idea to consider providing reasonable accommodations to older workers that will enable them to perform the essential functions of their jobs. For example, a factory may want to provide older workers with increased seating, softer flooring, lifting devices and frequent breaks.
Other accommodations include assistive listening devices and optical magnifiers/large print material. The important thing is that all workers are able to perform their jobs safely, securely and efficiently.
Provide Scheduling Options
Providing flexible scheduling or other scheduling options may be a good way to retain older workers moving into the next phase of life. For example, CVS offers employees a snowbird program which gives employees the opportunity to temporarily transfer on a seasonal basis and work in a store in a warmer state during the winter. The employer benefits as it is better able to serve customers in warmer climate stores during the busy winter season and employees are able to remain at their jobs while spending the winter months where they prefer.
An employer also may want to consider offering flexible scheduling in the form of:
• Reduced or staggered hours;
• Remote working options; and
• Compressed schedules or job sharing.
These options will permit older workers to tend to grandchildren in their care or other personal obligations.
Make Older Workers Feel Valued
It is critical for an employer to make older workers feel valued and respected. An employer may be able to do this by opening up the lines of communication with older workers and sending messages of thanks and appreciation. An employer also should consider setting up formal coaching and mentoring programs where older emplyoes can share their knowledge and experience with younger workers.
Most importantly, employers and supervisors must avoid stereotyping older workers and making assumptions about their abilities. Instead, focus on their strengths and applaud them for their ability to give back to the organization.
Offer Older Workers Additional Training
Providing increased training and educational opportunities to older workers also may increase their engagement. For example, an employer may want to provide additional classes on computers or mobile devices and other technologies to older workers who may feel threatened or intimidated by general employee training, but still have the capacity, desire and need to learn new skills.
By training older workers and continuing to invest in them, there is a greater chance that these individuals may continue to bring value to the organization.
Propose Phased Retirement
Frequently, older workers do not want to completely disengage, they just want to work less. That’s why offering phased retirement may be an attractive solution as it may allow a worker to slowly decrease his or her days and hours over a period of months or years while at the same time allowing the organization to benefit from the worker’s knowledge and expertise.
Phased retirement also enables a worker to continue earning a salary to help with future retirement or healthcare costs, and allows for continued medical, dental and vision coverage.
Finally, increased time away from work, may give older workers a window into how they want to spend their retirement once they are fully retired. A gradual transition, rather than an abrupt one, may be the best solution for both the employer and the employee.