Despite talk of a looming 2023 recession, the U.S. labor market remains extremely tight. In fact, whenever older workers decide to begin their retirement, many employers faces a small crisis. Not only is it difficult to recruit any replacement workers, but finding one who can match the institutional knowledge and industry experience of a retiring veteran employee is also especially challenging.
But while it’s often treated this way by soon-to-be former colleagues, retirement is not necessarily goodbye forever. Retirees don’t simply disappear, never to be heard from again. In fact, many retirees remain physically and intellectually active for decades after their retirement, and many get a bit stir crazy with little to do. These retired workers therefore represent a largely untapped source of experienced labor that may help fill short- or medium-term staffing needs if companies know how to recruit them effectively.
In this article, we’ll discuss some strategies, best practices, and observations for employers interested in reengaging with retired workers, including some tips provided by employers and industry experts.
Staying Engaged Versus Re-Engaging
As an initial comment, it’s important to point out the potentially significant difference underlying a seemingly insignificant variation in terms. Some employers talk about the potential benefit of reengaging former staff. Others focus on staying engaged. The practical difference here is that the former implies a loss of engagement at some point when the retirees left the workforce, while the latter suggests a continuous engagement.
Hari Kolam, CEO of Findem, a people intelligence company that helps talent leaders find and hire the right people, encourages employers to join the “staying engaged” camp rather than hoping to reestablish a relationship down the road when a definite need arises.
“Every company should consider running nurture campaigns with their top-performing former employees just as they would with potential candidates to keep them engaged and ‘warm’ for a possible return,” says Kolam. “An easy way to engage with alumni is by keeping them up to date with relevant company content, such as news about funding, awards won, and executive new hires. You can also open up thought-leadership opportunities to them, whether it’s writing contributed articles for industry publications or co-presenting at a conference or other event.”
Employee Alumni Networks
A great way to foster this continued engagement is by creating and cultivating “alumni programs.” These are networks of former employees (both retired and otherwise) that keep those former employees plugged into the pulse of the organization.
“Corporate alumni programs work by creating a network where former employees can stay in touch with their old colleagues and companies and continue to cultivate their relationships,” Kolam continues. “Not only do they make it easier to re-recruit former employees as they progress on their career path, but they can also be valuable for getting connected to other talent pools, generating sales leads, and turning alumni into new customers.”
Kolam adds that Findem has been seeing a lot of companies set up alumni Slack networks to keep a casual, open flow of communication with former employees and give them a space to remain active and participate in an organization’s community over the long term.
Be Upfront with Intentions
While there is often an assumption that workers in their mid-60s are on the verge of imminent retirement as a matter of course, the decision of whether and when to retire is a very significant one that has major impacts on a worker’s finances, family, and hobbies. The decision to come out of retirement and return to the workforce is just as, if not more, important. Employers asking this of former workers owe it to them to be honest, open, and upfront.
“Hearing from a past employer can be a roller coaster of emotions – especially if the working arrangement ended on complicated terms,” says Max Wesman, COO of GoodHire. “It’s best to be upfront and honest about your intentions, and to express a clear interest in having them return,” he notes. “Your conversational approach should always relate to the reason for the employee’s departure.”
Former employees deserve to understand the context and reason for a potential return. Will the return serve as a short bridge for a couple of months until a permanent hire can be brought on board? Or is it intended as a long-term return to work? How flexible will work hours and location be? What level of time commitment and responsibility is involved? Additionally, Westman recommends that employers not forget to note any organizational or cultural changes a former employee may be unaware of to help enhance the pitch.
“If they made the decision to leave, let them know about changes that have taken place since they left the workplace,” Wesman suggests. “This might include a new leadership team, career growth opportunities, or other improvements made to the company’s culture. Make mention of the employee’s past contributions, and emphasize how their experience and skill set could elevate the company’s future success. This is a great way to breathe new life into the role that you’re offering, as it shows them exactly how they fit into the picture.”
Easy on the Pressure
One of the biggest obstacles to having retired employees return to the office is the discrepancy between the level of stress and pressure on their working lives and their retired lives. A too-pushy recruitment pitch could turn off many retired workers before they’ve even had a chance to carefully consider the opportunity.
“The best way to invite them back into the fold is by starting with an open-ended question: ‘How would you like us to get in touch?’” recommends Kimberly Tyler-Smith, an executive with Resume Worded. “This will give them space to think about what’s going on in their life, and it gives you an opportunity to learn more about what might be holding them back from coming back to work for you.”
Tyler-Smith also recommends that companies keep conversations positive. “Don’t focus on what went wrong in the past,” she advises. “Instead, focus on what they can accomplish in the future with your company. Make sure your message resonates with them, and they know that they matter to you and that they are valued as individuals in your organization. Your message should be one of inclusion.”
Losing an experienced, long-tenured employee to retirement can be a tough blow for any organization, but not all workers choose to remain retired forever. Many are very interested in the chance to fill some of their abundant free time with some level of renewed engagement with their former employer. The key is knowing how to ask and have that discussion effectively.
Lin Grensing-Pophal is a Contributing Editor at HR Daily Advisor.