More people are working longer, putting off retirement for a few years. For businesses, it’s important to know how to benefit from the aging of the workforce.
The factors contributing to the graying of the workforce are numerous, including:
- Countries increasing retirement ages to relieve burdens on social programs
- People are living longer with medical advances that improve quality of life
- Inadequate saving for retirement or the inability to do
- Declining fertility rates
These conditions have helped allow older workers to be productive and effective well into their 60s and 70s. That means older employees are holding more business leadership positions, which can create frustration from younger employees eager to progress. It also means increased health care costs for companies that retain employees who have more medical issues.
Older workers provide significant advantages to companies, including:
- Emotional stability and maturity
- Mentoring and advising younger employees
- Experience that can be brought to bear in multiple ways
- Problem-solving abilities to address complex challenges
- Institutional memory
- Deeper industrial knowledge
- Nuanced critical thinking
- Larger networks
Despite the advantages older workers provide, there are still prevailing perceptions and biases against older employees. Consider the following:
- Deloitte’s 2018 Global Human Capital Trends report notes that 20 percent of business leaders and corporate executives consider older employees a competitive disadvantage and a barrier to the career progression of younger employees.
- An AARP study showed two-thirds of workers aged 45-74 saw or experienced age discrimination at work.
- A Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco study used 40,000 fake resumes that, except for age and gender, were identical. The study showed that age discrimination was rampant, especially for female applicants.
- A September 2018 federal class-action lawsuit alleges that IBM discriminated on the basis of age against three former employees when they were fired from the company.
Encourage your senior employees to share their collective knowledge and experiences with the organization.
Leveraging Older Employee Assets
What can companies do to maximize the impact of older employees? A few suggestions.
- Invest in Knowledge Transfer. Develop programs that allow older employees to transfer their collective insights, experiences, skills and advice to younger employees. Building a knowledge base allows for information to be organized, stored and delivered as needed.
- Provide Professional Development. Some business leaders choose not to invest in professional development for senior employees. However, older workers are more likely to remain loyal to organizations and less likely to change jobs. The risks of investing in mature employees are minimal.
- Make Accommodations. Whether it’s flexible work arrangements, reducing workstation glare and ambient noise, or ensuring tools are available for physical work, simple accommodations can keep senior employees more productive.
- Commit to Age Diversity. Diversity comes in many forms, including age. Be sure to conduct workplace demographic analyses to understand patterns related to employees of all ages, including retirement trends, attrition and retention. Commit to building age-diverse teams.
- Ask Them. Seek input from your oldest employees about how they can be most useful and productive, what accommodations may be necessary and how to leverage their accumulated knowledge.
The silver wave of aging employees is here to stay. It behooves companies to develop a business strategy to get the most out of these valuable workers.