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Older Workers Want to Keep Working. Here’s How to Accommodate Their Ambition.

A growing labor trend that many employers are facing is older employees staying in the workforce longer. 

In fact, workers over the age of 55 have become the fastest growing segment of workers in the US. According to William Emmons, lead economist at the Center for Household Financial Stability, workers aged 55 and older account for all of the net increase in employment since 2000 — about 17 million jobs. Emmons ran calculations using statistics from the Bureau of Labor and Statistics (BLS) to show that there has been a nearly 10-percent increase in the number of older workers in the workforce since 2000. 

As a result, companies that traditionally see these older workers leave are having to redefine roles and responsibilities to accommodate employees who are staying around longer. 

That isn’t always easy to do, and many companies are hesitant to make the changes necessary to retain their older workers, researchers Richard W. Johnson and Peter Gosselin note in a report for the Urban Institute. Instead, many employers resort to pushing older workers out by laying them off, reducing their income or forcing them into retirement.

But the companies that do this are missing out on a golden opportunity to embrace workers who have decades of training and experience to give back to the organization. Instead, companies should embrace older workers’ experiences and find ways to open up career paths for them.  

5 Strategies for Creating New Career Paths For Older Employees

Companies benefit in a number of different ways when they keep their aging employees on staff. Older workers “demonstrate loyalty, a strong work ethic and emotional resilience,” says Carol Patton, contributing editor for Human Resource Executive. Those qualities, combined with the knowledge and experience these workers possess, make older workers invaluable assets for a company.

Here are a few ways companies keep aging employees engaged and productive.

Allow For Flexible Scheduling

Aging employees seek out flexible schedules that allow them to balance home and work life. The Society for Human Resource Management [registration required] offers a few ways to do this:

  • Allow them to work part-time.
  • Schedule them only during a core work period.
  • Give them the option to work seasonally.
  • Let them work remotely.
  • Provide them a non-traditional schedule.

By being flexible about schedule options, employers give aging employees the opportunity to adapt their jobs to their personal needs, enabling a work-life balance that keeps them motivated and productive at work. 

Older workers concept. Stickers with inscriptions in a notebook

Open Up the Scope of Job Duties

Sometimes, varying the duties of an aging employee is a great way to find the best fit for them. Older workers want to be challenged, and their performance can improve with changes in responsibilities. Companies can do this by moving mature employees to other positions or cross-training them to do a variety of jobs. 

Cross-training is a good approach because it teaches older workers new skills and gives them the ability to do each other’s jobs. This can be especially helpful for those who may need to take more personal time or work more flexible hours, notes Ruth Finkelstein, a professor of health policy and management at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health.

By mapping out the needs of the company against the skills and needs of older workers, companies can often identify roles for which an employee’s skills may be a better fit into the future. The company can then provide retraining to ensure the employee’s success in the new roles.

Provide Opportunities for Reskilling and Continuous Learning

For them to be fully prepared for success in a new or shifting role in the company, mature workers will likely need some degree of training, explain Jeff Schwartz, Steve Hatfield, Kelly Monahan and Siri Anderson at Deloitte. One of the best strategies for creating career paths for older workers is to provide continuous development opportunities. 

Reskilling is a great way to do this because it gives employees the tools they need to either continue performing their current roles or fit into new ones. By giving older employees the chance to learn new skills, organizations open up doors for continued career progression.

Institute Cross-Generational Mentorship Programs

Engaging younger workers to provide mentoring and training to older workers is a great way to encourage information sharing and reskilling, too. 

But many organizations overlook this mentoring opportunity. “So often it’s got to be the tenured senior individual who is mentoring a member of a younger generation. If people would just realize how much is offered in the opposite direction as well, then they would place more importance on it,” says Ann Tardy, CEO of mentoring consulting service LifeMoxie. This sharing of new knowledge and skills can open up new opportunities within the organization for aging employees. 

But this type of mentoring isn’t just about providing new skills for older workers. It is also great for giving mature workers the opportunity to share their knowledge with the next generation. Creating mentorship roles for older employees is not only a great way to keep them employed, but also a benefit for the company to have their knowledge passed along. 

Modify the Physical Environment

The physical environment at work plays a big part in the ability of older workers to perform their jobs. Organizations can help them succeed by optimizing their workplaces. By considering such factors as noise levels, lighting, ergonomics and access to restrooms, employers can create comfortable and safe working environments for aging employees.

Young man teaching elderly man of usage of computer. Representing older workers staying employed longer.

Companies Leading the Way

While it may require some creative thinking and reshuffling, creating new career paths for aging employees can be very rewarding for organizations. 

Leading companies have recognized the benefits of retaining their older workers and have started focusing on that particular talent pool as a competitive advantage, explain Dimple Agarwal, Guarav Lahiri, Josh Bersin, Jeff Schwartz and Erica Volini at Deloitte.

BMW Makes Changes on the Factory Floor

For more than a decade, BMW has been making internal changes to keep its older workers happy and productive. 

Fabian Sting, a professor of operations management at the Rotterdam School of Management in The Netherlands, explains how BMW saw its workforce was aging and was determined to find a way to keep those workers employed. So, the company went directly to the employees and asked them for ideas.

The company took those ideas and made 70 small changes to cut the chance of errors and reduce physical strain on older workers. Some of those changes included: 

  • Making special shoes and putting in wooden floors to ease knee pain.
  • Installing modified hairdresser’s chairs to make it easier for older workers to go up and down.
  • Installing new computers with bigger fonts.
  • Having workers rotate jobs during a shift so they don’t repeat the same job all day long. 

Marriott Gives Older Workers New Skills Training

Danielle Kunkle Roberts, chief blogger at Boomer Benefits, reports that Marriott’s Flex Options program, which was implemented to increase opportunities for older workers to stay on with the company, has helped more than 325,000 team members transition from physically demanding jobs into other roles. 

The company accomplished this by adopting initiatives to address the needs of aging workers. Some of those initiatives, outlined in a report by the Sloan Center on Aging and Work, included: 

  • Cross-training workers so they can pick up shifts in other functional areas. 
  • Job rotations to eliminate constant repetition of work. 
  • Redesigning workflows to promote a team-based approach to responsibilities. 
  • Creating at-home agent positions for sales and customer care. 

Use AI to Identify the Best Uses of Older Workers’ Skills

It can be difficult for companies to ascertain where older workers’ skills would be best utilized. AI-powered hiring technology can help managers make that determination through data analysis. 

To place an older worker in the best role for their abilities, companies can use hiring technology to first collect data regarding past successful performance in a particular role. Then, the software will compare that information to the worker’s current performance data to match them to a role. This helps provide a level of confidence to employers that older workers are finding roles that both benefit the company and support their own professional ambitions.

Images by: racorn/©123RF.com, Oleg Chumakov/©123RF.com, Samo Trebizan/©123RF.com

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