Accepted wisdom is that older employees should be encouraged to step down. This accepted wisdom is often wrong – and doing so squanders a major asset to your organization.
Older workers are usually skilled and efficient. They have years of experience in the organization and the industry. They are also statistically proven to stay in jobs for longer. According to US Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median tenure of workers ages 55-64 was over 10 years in 2014 – more than three times that of 25–34-year-olds.
Keeping practiced workers on for longer allows them to pass their skills and knowledge on to more junior staff. This allows for smoother personnel transitions in the future and can strengthen your organization’s succession planning.
Mature workers are a growing segment of the workforce – accounting for an estimated 37 million workers in 2022. U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that over the next eight years, more than half of the 4.7 million new jobs projected in the US will be filled by workers over age 55. Of the 7.7 million workers expected to be added to the economy by 2031, roughly half (3.8 million) will be older than 65.
Unfortunately, many older workers continue working less, not out of choice, but due to financial hardship. So, how do organizations encourage them to stay and support them when they do?
Create a workforce of lifelong learners
Training is a simple and effective way to increase older workers’ productivity, keep them up-to-date on new processes, and encourage them to stay. Many regions stand to benefit financially from retaining older workers. OECD countries, for example, could add $2.6 trillion to their total GDP if they echoed Sweden’s impressive employment rate for 55-and-older workers, according to PwC. Its 2016 report identified Iceland, New Zealand, and Sweden as the top three OECD member countries that had most effectively harnessed the economic power of older workers.
Turn mentoring on its head
Traditional mentoring programs can provide an outlet for older workers to pass valuable skill-based information to your organization’s future leaders. Reverse mentoring programs — where younger employees provide mature workers with guidance on topics, such as technology updates — can also be helpful. It can, for example, fight ageist stereotypes which can stand in the way of an inclusive intergenerational workforce.
Offering flexible scheduling options
A 2022 Harvard Business Review (HBR) survey of 35,000 mature US workers found two thirds were looking for more thoughtful, compassionate leadership. Offering flexible working arrangements to accommodate family, health, and travel is a simple and common-sense way to achieve this. The HBR study found flexibility around shifts and leave of absence was a central priority for many of these workers.
Go head-to-head with ageism
Ageism in the workforce – both conscious and unconscious – is real and needs to be adequately addressed within your organization. It affects both the well-being of your mature workers and your overall productivity.
Employers can use targeted messaging to flip the narrative on older workers – elevating the value they bring to an organization. As well as adjusting workplace policy, leadership training should focus on age-inclusivity. As HBR pointed out, there is also the challenge of “internalized ageism” – where older workers view themselves through the lens of ageism, downplaying their own skills and the value they bring. Strategies like showcasing mature workers in internal and external marketing is just one way to tackle this issue.
If your organization employs a significant number of workers who are approaching retirement age, our white paper on generational diversity in the workplace can provide more information and tips on retaining the valuable older-employee segment.
Get additional help managing the effect of employees delaying retirement plans by preparing to support older staff members and avoiding succession planning issues in our blog posts on the topics.