Returning to work: How to attract and engage unretiring senior workers
Many seniors today are actively unretiring or considering returning to work. Futurist Alexandra Levit explains why this talent is so valuable and how you can appeal to these workers throughout the employee lifecycle.
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Experts have long predicted that baby boomer retirement would decimate global workforces, leaving employers with untold numbers of positions to fill and significant losses of organizational knowledge. But for nearly a decade, the bigger story has been baby boomers unretiring and returning to work.
Since a 2015 RAND Corporation study showed that 40% of retired workers over the age of 65 had returned to work, there has been a steady stream of data illustrating the unretiring trend. Many seniors simply don’t have the money or the inclination to leave the workforce and stay out.
According to ONS statistics in the UK, employment rates for people older than 65 had already doubled between 1993 and 2018. Then came the economic hardships associated with the pandemic and inflation. Of those who left during the pandemic and returned, 48% said they did so because they needed money.
A recent Indeed survey reported U.S. unretirement levels around 3.3%, higher than the below 3% average seen since 2017. A UK survey also found that two-thirds of people who retired during the pandemic expect to keep working in some form.
While baby boomers and older members of Generation X (born 1963-79) are concerned about having enough money to fund their retirement, financial considerations aren’t their only motivation for boomeranging back to work.
Many seniors are in good health and find that traditional retirement models breed boredom, dissatisfaction, and unhappiness. Even part-time jobs and volunteer positions can offer a sense of productivity and purpose.
The rise of post-pandemic hybrid and remote work has also coincided nicely with the unretirement trend. Some older workers who may no longer have the desire to manage full work weeks onsite can contribute meaningfully to organizations in ways that work for their current lifestyle.
Given their willingness to return to work, let’s look at a few ways your organization can cultivate seasoned talent in different phases of your employee lifecycle.
Sadly, many organizations discriminate against candidates based on their age when they should be doing the opposite. An industry veteran is one of the best hires you can make for a variety of reasons. Whether the person has previously worked for your organization or not, a candidate who has 20 or 30 years of experience in your line of work has seen it all and possesses critical institutional knowledge. They should be eagerly welcomed into the fold.
To that end, make sure your talent acquisition systems are set up so that older applicants don’t experience unnecessary roadblocks. Your candidate experience should show them they are valued from the very first interaction.
Although video and panel interviewing have recently become mainstream, keep in mind that many older applicants have not yet been hired in this way, and the techniques may be foreign to them. When in doubt, overexplain the process and go out of your way to ensure their comfort.
Many leaders are under the misguided impression that older workers don’t want or expect to learn new skills to further their careers, and as a result, these employees are often ignored or underserved when it comes to learning and development opportunities. In Ceridian’s 2023 Pulse of Talent survey, 54% of respondents aged 65 or older said they didn’t receive any learning or development opportunities from their employer over the past year.
Many roles in the world today require a certain familiarity with technology skills, but it’s a myth that all older employees have trouble mastering these. Some may need more time, but even this is not universal and depends on the individual.
Seasoned employees are particularly useful when it comes to mentoring younger workers in your organization. Their valuable perspective cannot be overstated when it comes to grounding Gen Z professionals as they adjust to the world of work. And often a formal or informal reciprocal arrangement forms in which the older and younger participant each bring relevant skills and perspectives to the relationship.
The post-pandemic period has ushered in a new era of employee listening. Using engagement surveys to poll your senior workers on what’s working for them and what’s not is an essential strategy in ensuring you’re meeting their needs. Your organization may be holding on to old norms such as mandatory retirement ages and rigid hierarchies that no longer make sense. And these may cause talented older workers to leave, and stay away, if you don’t open a dialogue about how they could continue to contribute to the company.
When it comes to engagement, one of the worst things you can do to senior workers is assume that an employee who is 60 or 65 years old is on their way out of the door. Rather, consider that the person could want to work as many as 15 or 20 more years. Your organization should have an infrastructure in place to work with aging employees to co-create a near-term vision in which they can flexibly and continuously add value to the organization.
Remember, the demographic shifts that are causing widespread skills shortages are not set to improve anytime soon. Even if you think you’d prefer to hire younger people, enough younger people will simply not be available. Attracting and holding on to talented and reliable senior employees is the most sensible way to future-proof your organization.