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Understanding the Great Retirement

The facts are hard to ignore. Baby Boomers — those born just after World War II, between 1946 and 1964 — have reached, surpassed or are approaching the age of retirement. The U.S. Bureau of Labor and Statistics reveals that the percentage of people 55 and over has doubled in the past 20 years, a trend that is projected to continue. This means two things: One on hand, yes, more people are retiring. But on the other hand, thanks to increased life expectancy, insufficient savings and the Social Security Administration’s gradual rise of the full retirement age, many individuals are choosing to work longer.

Granted, an aging workforce can certainly mean higher labor costs for organizations. Think: salaries, health insurance, paid time off and other benefits. However, losing this large population in a short amount of time would mean losing vast amounts of valuable knowledge and experience that is difficult to recover. So, while the baby boomer generation is beginning to retire in record numbers, there is an opportunity within the trend to capitalize on all they have acquired in their long career. Let’s examine how HR and other leaders can better understand and capitalize on the value of an aging workforce to comfortably navigate The Great Retirement.

Diversity Includes Age

Diversity, equity and inclusion are buzzwords across the HR spectrum and for good reason. Bringing together the diverse perspectives and experiences of various team members’ backgrounds has proven to lead to higher organizational performance. But while we regularly talk about diversity in terms of gender, race, sexuality and disability, we aren’t often inclusive of age. In today’s tight labor market, we cannot underestimate the strength that can be found in persuading people to consider retiring later or coming back from retirement, and from embracing the memories and knowledge that they bring to the table. Regardless of your industry, employing individuals in a range of ages — as well as other forms of diversity — can be a positive influence on your organization’s short- and long-term success.

Words Matter

Job descriptions can often favor younger workers, even unintentionally. For instance, words like “digital native” can make some older applicants feel unqualified, and yet their institutional knowledge and experience can be just as valuable, if not more so than hard skills such as digital prowess. As older employees leave the workforce, the skills gap widens. Train your HR department and hiring managers on best practices in inclusive hiring and ensure your hiring committees represent a broad range of diversity, including ages, so that all applicants feel like they have a real opportunity to bring about meaningful change in your organization.  Whenever possible, explore and share the opportunities available for the older generation to mentor younger workers. Not only does it reduce the skills gap currently prevalent in so many industries, but it also capitalizes on the value that older workers can offer.  

Older Workers are Hungry for Progression Too

According to HR Magazine, managers are overlooking older workers for training and development, wrongly assuming it’s just younger workers who are hungry for knowledge and opportunity. But with individuals living and working longer with a higher quality of life than ever before, much of the aging workforce is still eager to learn and progress their skills. Staying relevant is important to workers across generations, and providing opportunities for ongoing professional development can be key to engaging older workers eager to not just keep up with the conversation, but lead it. With so many years experience — often in a variety of roles — these workers can bring a historical perspective and understanding that younger employees simply cannot. Nurture their desire to continue evolving and your organization will reap the rewards of not only new skills, but also many decades of real-world experience.

No Link Between Age and Productivity

Eliminate this common age bias right now, because The Bureau of Labor and Statistics shares that when it comes to the question of whether age affects productivity, the answer is inconclusive. Some studies show that older workers are less productive, some show no difference between older and younger workers, and others show that older workers are more productive than their younger counterparts. What does this mean for employers? Cast a wide hiring net and implement strategies to retain the employees already in place, including best practices for managing an aging workforce. Culture plays a crucial role here; after all, one of the easiest steps to managing retention is to not unnecessarily or unwittingly lose talent in the first place.

Think Multi-Generationally

No organization wants to suffer regretted losses. Implementing programs to accommodate and manage a “multigenerational” workforce is a must to retain employees of all ages in a tight labor market that is poised to get worse if retirement age workers are forced or encouraged out. By eliminating common age bias, re-thinking the diversity and subsequent value that older workers offer, and updating your organization’s career management initiatives to integrate lifelong learning and varied later career options, organizations can begin to find opportunity during this unique era of retirement.

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