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How Retaining Older Workers Can Help your Business

How Retaining Older Workers Can Help your Business

By: Dona DeZube

According to 2010 data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, nearly 25 percent of the US workforce will be 55 or older by 2018.

What does that mean for your business? Failing to have a plan to attract, retain and engage older workers could cause you critical staff shortages.

The problem could be especially troublesome for small and medium-sized businesses that want to retain older workers, says Jerry W. Hedge, program director at RTI International, a Research Triangle Park, North Carolina-based research institute.

“A large firm can absorb losses more easily,” he says. “With a small business, if you lose a valuable older worker, it’s a much bigger hit.”

If you’re a small or mid-sized employer that lacks a six-figure recruiting and employee retention budget, you can still retain your older workers and find new ones by using these seven low-cost strategies.

1. Partner with support and affiliate groups for older workers.
To attract older workers, get your company involved with programs and networking groups designed for them. Employment offices, labor departments, senior service organizations and groups such as 40Plus can all link your company to older workers seeking employment.

2. Tell your older workers you want them to stay.
Older adults coming off the recession are concerned about employment predictability and security. “Some older workers worry that their employment situations might change,” says Marcie Pitt-Catsouphes, director of the Sloan Center on Aging & Work at Boston College, which integrates evidence from research to inform organizational decision-making.

“Even if their employers have been supportive in the past, they sometimes express concern that their employers might want them to leave in the future…but before the older workers are ready for a transition.”

You can boost employee retention of older workers by regularly telling them you want them to stay and that you’re happy they’re working for you.

Set up a mentoring program so older workers share what they know with younger staff and vice versa. When you set up teams, include workers of all ages.

3. Offer flexible schedules.
Ask older workers what would keep them on the job after they reach the traditional retirement age. Many will tell you a flexible schedule would make a difference, Pitt-Catsouphes says.

If your business ebbs and flows weekly or seasonally, you can retain older workers by creating a flexible track where employees work only during peak days or during the high season. Accountants can work tax season, marketing pros might be willing to work just the conference season, while your sales staff can come back for the holiday rush.

Another strategy for retaining older workers is to offer positions devoted to time-limited projects, Pitt-Catsouphes says.

Job sharing, traditionally used by workers with young children, can be another great way to retain older workers, says Sheila Fesko, senior research fellow at the Institute for Community Inclusion at the University of Massachusetts Boston.

4. Offer a variety of benefits and let workers choose the ones they want.
Workers value benefits differently based on their life situations. “Perks that might have been important in the past suddenly aren’t as important [as workers age], so give employees a menu of benefits and the option of choosing the benefit that’s most appealing,” Fesko says.

5. Slow the exit of experienced workers with phased retirements.
In a phased retirement, the worker reduces his hours slowly over a long period. This approach delays the older worker’s exit as well as the loss of their institutional knowledge.

“While phased retirement can seem like an attractive alternative to a more abrupt retirement transition, some retirement plans make it difficult for employees to access their retirement savings and also continue to work for the same employer,” Pitt-Catsouphes says.  

6. Find better, easier ways to get the job done.
As workers age, they develop health issues, Fesko says. And while employers are usually quick to make accommodations for existing employees, they’re perhaps less accommodating with new hires.

As you fill a position, consider whether there’s a way to adapt it so someone with physical limitations can do it, Fesko suggests. For example, if a job is done standing, can you restructure it so it can done seated? “Frame it with supervisors as finding the most effective way to do the job,” Fesko says.

7. Use training and education to increase engagement.
Don’t let false stereotypes hold you back from spending on employee training and education for your older workers. Two popular, but false stereotypes:

  • Older people are resistant to learning.
  • It’s a waste of resources to train people who are about to retire.

In reality, people who are 50 and older are more likely to stay in a job longer than people who are between 25 and 35, Pitt-Catsouphes says.

Employee training doesn’t have to be done in-house. Many community colleges offer classes aimed at older workers. Nearly a dozen states offer lifelong learning accounts — or LiLAs — to help fund worker education, Hedge says.

“As a late career worker, one more promotion may not appeal to you,” he says. “But using your skill set to do something new may. [Businesses should] keep tabs on what employees are interested in.”

While you might implement these ideas with older workers in mind, chances are that the changes you make to retain older workers will appeal to employees of all ages.

After all, it doesn’t matter why or at what age a worker wants training, scheduling flexibility or accommodation. What matters is that by offering those perks, you’ll retain and engage the employees you have now and attract top talent too.