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As boomers gray, savvy employers could see silver lining

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in Hiring,Human Resources,Leaders & Managers,Performance Reviews

With so many companies focused on downsizing to contain costs in a down economy, many employers have failed to prepare for a pending change that will significantly alter workforce demographics.

The baby boom generation, defined as Americans born between 1946 and 1964, composes 25% of our country’s population. Beginning in 2011, the first of the baby boom generation will turn 65. As the rest of the roughly 70 million baby boomers follow, we’ll see a major shift in the age of our society—and our workforces—unlike anything that has ever happened before.

In order to survive and thrive in the face of these new demographic realities, employers will need to retain employees well older than the traditional retirement age of 65. For many employers, that will require adopting new policies and practices that address the issues and concerns of older employees.

Here are some areas on which employers will need to focus if they are to create the kind of workplace that will help retain older workers.

Training and skill building

• Ensure that your older employees participate in your training and educational programs. Bureau of Labor Statistics data show that, on average, workers age 55 or older receive significantly less training than their younger counterparts.

• Establish an environment where participation in ongoing training and education is expected of all employees—and isn’t viewed as a sign of weakness or poor performance.

Development opportunities

• Develop programs to rejuvenate mid-career and older employees with opportunities for meaningful work, fresh assignments, knowledge-sharing roles and sabbaticals.

• Create and expand talent-pool programs to include solid contributors and those with skills that are hard to replace, regardless of age.

Flexible work arrangements

• Create programs that allow for flexible work arrangements, including job sharing, reduced hours and telecommuting. Communicate to your staff that those work arrangements are available to all employees.

• Create programs for retirees to return to work temporarily, whether on special projects, part time, to cover leaves of absence or to fill in other staffing gaps.

Recruitment strategies

• Be creative as you try to attract older workers. Consider contacting civic and community organizations, the National Council on Aging, AARP and other organizations as part of your recruiting efforts.

• Emphasize experience, knowledge and expertise in your advertisements.

Employee appreciation

• Include profiles of older employees in internal and external publications.

• Celebrate anniversaries.

• Invest in benefits that appeal to older employees.

• Ask employees what would induce them to continue working beyond their expected retirement age, and then act on what you learn.

Silver hair, silver lining

The good news for employers: Persuading boomers to remain employed beyond the traditional retirement age of 65 may be easier than you think.

Seventy-five percent of baby boomers say they want to continue working rather than retire. And, boomers may mean what they say: According to financial planning experts, 69% of baby boomers are unprepared to maintain their current lifestyles in retirement. In other words, they may need to continue to work.

By creating a culture that values older employees, you can keep them working for you—and not your competitors. You will also keep corporate memory, expertise and experience from walking out your door, and ensure you have the employees you need to thrive.

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