As the Ranks of Older Workers Grows, Employers Urged to Capitalize on the Trend

It’s become a mantra resounding from more and more employers: Good help is hard to find. For years now, employers have bemoaned their inability to recruit and retain workers for the full range of employment, everything from low- to high-skill positions.

older workforce

But researchers who study the workforce and the trends shaping it point to a group that employers often overlook—older workers.

A Look at the Numbers

It’s understandable that employers often shy away from workers beyond a certain age. An employer doesn’t want to invest in employees it believes will want to retire in a short time. And for a long time, early retirement was a noticeable trend. The picture now, however, has started to change.

Management consultancy Bain & Company recently released a study showing how workers 55 and older are fast becoming a large and important segment of the workforce worldwide.

The Bain report, “Better with Age: The Rising Importance of Older Workers,” predicts that the 55 and older crowd will exceed 25% of the workforce by 2031 in the Group of Seven countries (the United States, Canada, Germany, the United Kingdom, Japan, France, and Italy).

Bain’s analysis says the trend is most extreme in Japan, where the company expects workers 55 and older will near 40% of the workforce by 2031.

The report, released in July, also cites data from polling firm Gallup that 41% of American workers now expect to work past age 65. Thirty years ago, that number was 12%. Not even an event as catastrophic as the pandemic resulted in a permanent change.

“Even the spike in retirements during the peak-COVID Great Resignation now looks more like a Great Sabbatical, a blip in the long-term trend data, with a higher percentage of retirees reentering the workforce than in February 2019,” the Bain report says.

Globally, Bain predicts that 150 million jobs will have shifted to older workers by 2030. That prediction applies worldwide, not just in the higher-income countries.

What to Expect From Older Workers

The Bain study says that there is no such thing as an average worker, but most people fall into certain categories. Among those categories are “artisans” and “givers,” and the older age groups are more often those kinds of workers.

Bain says artisans, among other things, are those likely to seek out work that fascinates them, and they are motivated by the pursuit of mastery. They also desire autonomy and place lower emphasis on camaraderie.

The givers find meaning in helping others, are less motivated by money, have strong team spirit, and value personal growth and learning.

Information from the U.S. Department of Labor’s (DOL) CareerOneStop points out that when older workers are employed, employers reap benefits, such as gaining experience and expertise. Also, older workers often can be mentors, and they frequently have a strong work ethic and fewer family commitments than younger workers.

Ways to Recruit and Retain Older Workers

A December 2022 Harvard Business Review article on attracting and retaining older frontline workers says research shows that older workers “bring a collaborative spirit” to the workplace, and organizations also can benefit from having the perspective of intergenerational teams.

The article focused on essential worker roles in the eldercare sector such as food servers, cooks, nurse aides, front desk workers, etc., but it says findings of the research amount to universal design principles applicable to many types of recruitment and retention of essential workers.

The seven identified principles include designing respectful and purposeful roles; arranging and enabling flexible schedules; adapting and accommodating physical challenges; communicating clearly and candidly; building community; tackling ageism; and paying for the job, not for tenure. That means focusing on the value of the employees’ work more than their years in the workforce.

The DOL’s CareerOneStop offers the following list of best practices for recruiting and retaining older employees.

  • Use nontraditional recruiting techniques such as partnerships with national organizations that focus on older Americans.
  • Employ flexible work situations and adapt job designs to meet the preferences and physical constraints of older workers.
  • Offer the right mix of benefits and incentives to attract older workers such as tuition assistance, time off for elder care, employee discounts, and pension plans that allow retirees to return to work.
  • Provide employees with financial literacy skills to ensure they have a realistic plan to provide retirement security.
  • Treat all employees in a fair and consistent manner and employ a consistent performance management system to prevent age discrimination complaints. 

Tammy Binford is a Contributing Editor at HR Daily Advisor.

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