Learning & Development, Recruiting

Worried About Brain Drain? Focusing on Older Workers Can Help

A recent study from Guild, a workplace education provider, explored what keeps employers up at night. Topping the list of worries business leaders named for 2024 was a loss of institutional knowledge as workers retire, with 82% of respondents citing that issue. That same study found that 93% of the business leaders responding were eager for HR to offer innovative solutions. Another recent report, from management consulting firm Bain & Company, focused on the importance of keeping older workers—not because it’s a nice thing to do, but because it’s a business imperative.

A Look at Numbers

Bain’s report, titled “Better with Age: The Rising Importance of Older Workers,” found that the share of workers 55 and older is on the rise around the world. In the U.S., Bain’s analysis of numbers from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics and the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development shows that workers 55 and older made up 20% of the workforce in 2011, 23% in 2021, and is projected to be 25% in 2031.

Other countries also are seeing increases in the number of older workers, with Japan seeing the most. The statistics show that workers 55 and older made up 28% of the workforce in Japan in 2011, 31% in 2021, and is projected to hit 38% in 2031.

Bain’s analysis also shows that the share of younger workers is declining as older people have begun to work longer over the past 20 years. And the report says that by 2030, 150 million jobs around the world will have shifted to older workers.

Citing research from polling giant Gallup, the Bain report says 41% of American workers expect to work beyond age 65. Thirty years ago, that number was 12%.

“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 report says.

Even with more older people wanting to work, “it’s rare to see organizations put programs in place to integrate older workers into their talent system,” according to the report, which cited a 2020 AARP finding that fewer than 4% of firms were already committed to such programs, and only a further 27% saying they were very likely to explore such programs in the future.

The Bain report points out the importance of realizing not all older workers and their situations are the same. Some jobs are more practical for older workers than others, and the motivations of older workers vary from individual to individual.

Benefits and Risks

Workplace safety firm Fit for Work points out benefits of having an aging workforce. For example, older workers tend to show professionalism and a work ethic that provides strong leadership.

Also, older employees possess valuable experience that adds skill and expertise within various roles. In addition, aging workers can be good mentors to younger workers, fostering loyalty from the younger workers and reducing training costs.

Risks posed by older workers must also be considered, according to the Fit for Work report. For example, aging employees, while often the most skilled team members, also can be the most vulnerable.

Older employees experience a decrease in maximum physical strength, as well as problems with balance and vision. Side effects of medicines also can increase the likelihood of falls or musculoskeletal disorders, according to the Fit for Work report. Also, as workers age, injuries are less common but are often more serious and require a longer recovery than injuries to younger workers.

Tips for Retaining Older Workers

Monster has compiled a list of ways employers can retain their older workers. Here are a few ideas:

  • Keep older workers in mind when providing training and reject stereotypes that say older workers are resistant to change and don’t want to learn anything new. Also, employers are advised to not fall for the thinking that training people who may retire in a few years is a waste of resources.
  • Offer flexible schedules and remote opportunities.
  • Support phased retirement plans that allow older workers to work less over a period of time. Such a plan benefits the remaining employees by letting them transition gradually into being senior contributors.
  • Offer seasonal work and short-term assignments. Even after retirement, some workers might be willing to help during busy seasons.
  • Provide accommodations and flexible benefits options. Making sure older workers are able to access all the accommodations they need will help them continue on the job. 

Tammy Binford is a Contributing Editor.

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