Aging Workforce Good for Employers and the Economy

Older workers have long encountered age discrimination from employers who perceived them to be less creative, resistant to change, unmotivated and costly to keep.

However, recent studies and polls debunk these negative stereotypes and suggest that mature workers are an integral part of businesses staying successful in a competitive marketplace.

According to a new report by Careerbuilder, 54 percent of employers hired mature workers (55+) in 2014, up from 48 percent in 2013.

Some employers are recognizing that mature workers bring a lifetime of skills and knowledge to their jobs, and can be highly motivated and productive members in the workplace.

The contributions of older works will become increasingly important as baby boomers age.  By 2019, over 40 percent of Americans aged 55+ will be employed, making up over 25% of the U.S. labor force, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Staying on the Job Longer

A 2013 AARP study revealed that 7 in 10 experienced professionals plan to work during retirement. The goals of working into retirement consisted of three main motivations:

Social and psychological fulfillment: Enjoying the work and interacting with others, plus feeling useful and productive.

Future financial security: Working to fulfill pension requirements, qualifying for Social Security, and saving more.

Current financial need: Income to support family, pay for health care and maintain health insurance.

Advantages of a Mature Workforce

As baby boomers stay in the labor market longer, many employers recognize the value experienced workers bring to their organization.

“One of the things that older workers can bring to the workforce is providing knowledge transfer and mentoring of the younger worker to make them more valuable in the enterprise,” says Stan Kimer, president of Total Engagement Consulting by Kimer.

Kimer retired at 55 from IBM to form his own consulting company and says he wants to remain engaged, intellectually stimulated, and feels that he can contribute his wisdom to help younger generations.

“Older workers bring a whole array of qualities to the table and we want to see more businesses take notice of the advantages to hiring and retaining older employees,” says Dorian Block, co-author of Age Smart Industry Guides, published by the Robert N. Butler Columbia Aging Center.

Surveys of HR professionals, small business owners and hiring managers found that mature workers are viewed as having a number of positive qualities, including:

  • Loyalty, reliability and dedication.
  • Higher levels of engagement.
  • A strong work ethic.
  • Job-related skills, including good communication skills.
  • Existing networks of professional and client contacts.
  • Broad work and life experiences.

A recent publication by the Society for Human Resources Management (SHRM) noted that age is unrelated to core task performance and that mature workers outperform younger workers in many areas, including performance quality, organizational behaviors, commitment, attendance and overall knowledge and skills.

Attracting, Engaging and Retaining Mature Workers

Appreciation of mature workers, investing in their ability and knowledge and viewing them as valuable resources is likely to become a trend as baby boomers age and the overall number of workers decline.

“There’s a big talent drain on the horizon and the number of baby boomers retiring is more than the pipeline of younger workers coming into the work place with the skills to backfill those people,” says Kimer.

In response to an older workforce, employers are developing strategies and best practices to recruit and retain older workers in a bid to compete and survive in today’s marketplace.

Phased retirement, which allows employees to reduce work time in their current job, is regarded as a favorable strategy that benefits employees who want to stay sharp and maintain their sense of purpose, while their employers can retain workers who might otherwise leave the labor force entirely. Other strategies include:

  • Hiring retirees as consultants
  • Job sharing
  • Telecommuting
  • Sabbaticals
  • Flex-time, part-time, or season work
  • Reduced work days or work weeks
  • Providing training to upgrade skills
  • Providing opportunities to transfer jobs with reduced pay and responsibilities

Phased retirement may become an invaluable tool for businesses to ensure the preservation of institutional knowledge and preparedness of new generations of skilled workers.

Block says businesses who advocate older workers on their staff have higher collaboration and mentoring rates, which are vital to their success. “We’re not just looking at the benefits to older workers, we’re looking at the overall benefits to society,” says Block.

As Dr. Ursula Staudinger and Dr. Ruth Finkelstein of the Columbia Aging Center highlight in their article, Maximizing Our Aging Potential, “work is only one example of how by modifying our society and our environment we can change the course of aging. Promoting cognitive plasticity can apply to creativity in civic engagement, the educational system, the arts, and participation in housing, neighborhoods, and governance. Remaining active, engaged, and, as this research shows, having the opportunity to do new tasks, is not just an individual advantage but a societal imperative.”

What benefits do you see working past the standard retirement age? Do you plan to continue working during retirement? 

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