As people live longer and technology becomes a feature of many aspects of work, the aging workforce needs to be carefully considered by companies and organizations of all sizes. There are both opportunities and challenges as it relates to employment, working conditions, living standards, and overall wellbeing. It’s not an exaggeration to say that the economies of entire countries and regions will be dependant on ensuring that mature people are allowed to make a contribution.
By 2050, people aged 60 and over are expected to make up 30% or more of the global population. The number of people 60 and over is also set to outrun the number of children aged five and under, according to the World Health Organization. In addition, it is predicted that more than half of the children born today will live to 100.
Increased longevity and changes in pension regulations mean people need or want to work longer. They’re healthier, more energetic, and often eager to continue contributing to societies and economies well past the traditional retirement age. Therefore, organizations will have to employ more mature individuals.
Many business owners and human resources managers are seeing more mature applicants. Existing employees want to stay on the job longer than they previously did. Across the OECD, people aged 55 to 64 are already playing a greater role in the labor market than ever before. However, some countries and organizations still lag behind. This lag affects individuals, families, organizations, and economies.
To harness the opportunities offered by longer life expectancy and a multigenerational workforce, companies need to create age-friendly policies that span everything from recruitment to retirement. This guide seeks to provide a roadmap that business owners and managers can apply to their organizations in an effort to leverage all the benefits of changing demographics.
Your company’s brand and reputation play an important role in your ability to attract and retain mature talent. Given the dwindling pool of younger workers and rising number of mature employees, you’ll want your company to be seen as one that is welcoming of 50-plus individuals.
In today’s world, your website is often the first point of contact for potential employees. Therefore, both the images and language you use should be inclusive. You’ll want to avoid stating that your organization is “young and vibrant” if you hope to attract mature talent or keep your existing workers happy. To send a message that people of all ages are welcome, pay attention to the litte details such as ensuring that photos of your company’s website also include mature workers. It is common for images to depict people in their 20s and 30s, but this can send the wrong message. Whether you’re using stock photos or showing actual employees, be sure to show some age diversity.
Building an age-friendly organization goes beyond treating existing employees well. You also need to pay attention to attracting 50-plus employees. To do so, examine all the processes in place from everything on how you describe job roles to whom you include on your recruitment team.
Some companies state that they’re looking for candidates with a maximum number of years of experience. Describing a role in this way can deter older workers who have already spent a few decades in the workforce. While you may want to specify a minimum number of years to ensure you attract candidates with the desired level of experience, an upper limit can deprive you of excellent talent.
It’s also a good idea to avoid describing prospective employees as “rockstars,” “digital natives,” or “ninjas” since these tend to be seen as synonyms for “young person” or “recent grad.” If you want to attract people of all ages, your language needs to be more neutral. If you specifically want to hire older people, focus on adjectives like “experienced” or “mature.”
When searching for candidates, there are a number of things you can do to ensure you reach mature individuals. One of the simplest things you can do is post your role in places that would be seen by older candiates such as publications of associations like the AARP in America or in newspapers and other publications in Europe. Companies looking to fill positions often turn to universities but this is likely to attract an overwhelmingly younger cohort.
You can also target your advertising specifically to older people who are involuntarily retired, facing the threat of dismissal, or simply looking for work by posting on Linkedin using attractive language to describe your openings.
Other options include:
- Seeking referrals from other people in your organization, particularly older people
- Creating formal programs targeting mature employees
- Partnering with outplacement companies and or non-profit groups and other organizations that can help you to recruit mature people
- Ensure that your recruiters understand that you hope to attract job seekers of all ages
To ensure that your recruitment process is age-friendly, a number of things must be in place. These include:
- Clarity on how recruiting older colleagues can benefit existing employees
- A neutral approach to age and an open-minded view on recruitment
- A focus on task-related characteristics when assessing and selecting candidates
- The provision of training for older employees who join the workplace
When interviewing mature candidates, you’ll want to go deeper when asking about their motivation and interests. Given the vast experience they’ll likely have, they’ll have more to share than a younger candidate. This can help you to identify the value they would bring to the organization. It also shows the candidate that you care about the things that are important to them. During the interview, focus on experiences, skills and competencies, and other attributes that are unrelated to age.
Take a look at the people whom you use to seek out and hire new employees. Are they young people who’ve recently left university? You’ll want to make sure that you include older individuals who don’t see everyone above 40 or 50 as old. It’s best to have people of mixed ages conducting the recruiting and interviewing.
Many people think about onboarding as something that takes just a few days or a week at most. However, the entire process can take up to a year if done correctly. Onboarding is a combination of orientation, training, and mentorship. It can be used to reinforce your commitment to creating an age-diverse workforce.
During the onboarding process, your new employees will have their first taste of what it’s like to work for you. When the process is done well, it can improve employee engagement, inclusion, and retention. This applies regardless of the age of the new recruit. However, there are some things you may want to pay attention to when onboarding an older worker.
It’s best to clarify the new team member’s role and the roles of other employees at the earliest opportunity. This is especially important if the mature recruit will be reporting to someone who is much younger. Setting up clear functions from the start can reduce the likelihood of misunderstandings later.
Another thing to consider is that mature workers may want more in-depth information on things such as life insurance, health benefits, retirement plans, and long-term care insurance. They may also want to know about senior care programs if they have dependent parents.
Organizations most often focus training on younger people. In the past, this was because these individuals were expected to spend decades at the company. It is no longer the case that younger people will stay at your company, so your best bet is to keep your existing workforce trained and engaged and especially your mature workers. Contrary to common stereotypes, older people can learn new information and they are often very interested in doing so. Just like younger people, each mature individual may have a different learning style. Therefore, it’s important to take a more individualized approach to training.
A peer mentor is a person who provides one-on-one suppport to help a new hire adjust to the workplace. The mentor should a strong understanding of how to succeed at the company, but they don’t need to be older or of a similar age. In fact, many organizations now have “intergenerational” mentorship programs in place where a younger person mentors an older person. The mentor, typically a millennial or member of Gen Z, teaches the mentee about technology that’s applicable to their role while the mature worker can help the younger person with the deep knowledge of an industry or function that might take years to learn on their own.
Older workers are often neglected where career development is concerned. However, learning opportunities should be offered to workers throughout their careers and especially at 45+ as research show that people values change and mature over time. In addtion, older workers often have skills and qualifications that younger people don’t, but there are also likely to be certain skills deficits. These gaps tend to occur in part because organizations don’t extend training opportunities to mature workers.
To ensure that your training and development efforts benefit all your employees, you should:
- Evaluate your existing programs
- Analyze the skills your organization needs and determine whether older workers possess them
- Remove any age limits on in-house learning opportunities
- Monitor the educational status of all employees
- Make work conducive to ongoing learning by creating multigenerational teams
- Use mature employees as facilitators for workers of varying ages
Despite the fact that people are working longer, your mature employees will eventually retire. If you don’t put the right strategies in place, they will take all their knowledge with them, resulting in a loss of valuable information to the organization. There are a few things you’ll want to avoid where workforce planning is concerned:
- Getting rid of older employees just so you can hire younger people or reduce costs
- Overlooking mature workers for promotion or lateral moves when it’s time to replace people formally retiring
- Not developing a plan when a worker signals their intention to retire
When a team member is planning to retire, you should work closely with them. Not only do you need to have a clear timeline as to when they’re leaving, but you need to work with them to train the individuals who will need to fill their position.
According to David DeLong, the author of “Lost Knowledge: Confronting the Threat of an Aging Workforce,” organizations incur both direct and indirect costs when they lose knowledge by way of attrition and retirement. Direct costs come with workers leaving with organizational knowledge. DeLong identifies the indirect costs of the knowledge gap as poor documentation and storage. He urges companies to take a holistic approach to knowledge retention that combines knowledge transfer, knowledge recovery, and knowledge management.
To attract and retain mature workers, you need to offer benefits that they find attractive. Naturally, workers of any age expect to be paid fair wages and treated with respect. However, research shows that money is not the highest motivation for mature workers. They may also be more interested in certain benefits such as:
- Increased funding to their retirement plans
- Wellness initiatives
- Flexible and remote working options
- Enhanced retirement benefits
- Eldercare support for elderly parents
All the benefits on offer should be clearly communicated to employees.
These benefits are especially important if a worker is being asked to accept lower pay. There are several reasons why a company may want to pay an older worker less than they expect. Sometimes, it’s because they expect the employee to be less productive, especially if they have been out of the workforce for some time.
Some governments have sought to address this by offering subsidies. For example, Switzerland’s unemployment insurance scheme carries up to 80% of the wage difference between the individual’s last job and their new job. In Germany, the income safeguarding program subsidizes 50% of the differential in the first year and 30%in the second. These types of measures can encourage companies to hire and retain older workers while meeting financial and emotional needs for people over the age of 50.
Organizations have a role to play in helping employees prepare for their post-retirement years. In many cases, older people want to work less as they approach retirement; they don’t want to completely stop working right away. Therefore, a phased retirement option may be appealing. The worker can gradually reduce their hours over several months or even years. In doing so, they’ll have more time for leisure or family activities while still earning a salary and retaining their benefits. In turn, the organization continues to benefit from their skills and knowledge.
Countries across the world are facing rapidly aging populations. Chances are, the number of older people in your organization is growing. While this presents some challenges, it provides several benefits for your business. If you don’t take the necessary steps to capitalize on the changing demographics, your organization could be left behind.
Older workers tend to be:
- More loyal to the organization
- Less likely to miss work
- More reliable
- Better at critical thinking and problem-solving
- More engaged and motivated
- Highly productive
- Excellent at customer service
Organizations that embrace a multigeneration workforce reap a number of benefits, including:
- Greater skills diversity
- Multiple perspectives
- Increased productivity
- Reduced turnover
- Better, faster decision-making
While many companies have not yet realised that ageing demographics is an issue for their own company, those that do, will be in the position to reap the benefits and rewards that will come with having a highly engaged older workforce. It is already the case that finding good talent is a global issue. You only have to look at your own workforce to see the where the opportunities are!
Marie Jerusalem is a Co-Founder of WiseForce Advisors. Marie spent 30 years as a leader and organization/HR consultant for global companies where she not only gained bold insights but also became an expert in understanding the mutual connection between the diversity and well-being of teams and sustainable profitability. She has advised executives and HR leaders in the United States, Europe, Middle East and Asia on diverse and complex organizational challenging and high change international environments.