This past February, I once again attended the annual World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. I was pleased to be invited to speak on a panel presented by Mercer, titled “Health, Wealth and Work-Wise: The new imperatives for financial security.” The other panelists and I spoke to what we feel could be the next global concern: the aging workforce.
The aging worker in today’s workforce
The world of work is changing rapidly, especially for the aging worker. In addition to living longer—or what I like to call “being younger longer”—retirement systems have shifted from being the responsibility of the employer to being the responsibility of the worker in many countries around the world. The traditional life course of student, worker, then retiree, is being overhauled. Retirement has become something unprecedented: a third stage of life, potentially as long as childhood and one’s prime age working years. In most cases, retirement at 50 isn’t even a realistic option anymore—even if you wanted it to be.
In our recent report, “The 2018 U.S. Workforce Report,” we surveyed 1,000 American workers about valuable workforce surrounding how their employers can best support them, and, ultimately, what would keep them at one company long-term.
In one question, we asked respondents if they had recently returned to the workforce after a period of not working for at least one year, and why. If you break down the responses by age, 67% of those who returned because they retired but later needed additional income, were 65+ years old.
In another question, we asked respondents if they held side jobs, and why. 72% of those who were 65+ and held side jobs stated it was either to help them pay their bills, or because they needed the expendable income the side job provided.
By 2024, nearly 25% of the global workforce is projected to be 55 or older —more than double the share in 1994 (Bureau of Labor Statistic.) By 2022, in the United States, 32% of Americans age 65 to 74 will be working, up from 18% today (Pew Research Center.) And yet it doesn’t appear that actively recruiting workers of traditional retirement age is a huge priority for many companies today.
Companies and individuals can’t rely on the work models of the past to shape their future. Both companies and individuals need to begin preparing for this third stage of work so they can be productive, earn the money they need, and make the most of their longer lives.
What we can do to accommodate a multi-generation workforce
That said, there are some organizations actively pursuing the aging worker and adapting work environments to accommodate generations of all ages:
- Google recently purchased a company called Calico, a development company that researches and creates interventions that help people to live longer, healthier lives. Google is known for leading the charge on global, economic trends and innovations that impact not just the world of work, but the way we go about our lives in general. It’s clear that more companies will begin focusing on not just health and well-being, but also how environmental factors like workspaces impact lifespans.
- The Adecco Group now has a program in France called “The Alumni Network.” When leaders at Adecco France leave their roles, they are able to join this organization that keeps them engaged within our company even though they’re no longer in their former roles.
- Companies in the energy sector, which we know are vital in not only job creation but also domestic stability, are seeing increased healthcare costs because they’re offering better benefits for older workers who desperately need it. Healthcare is the key employee benefit trending in the energy sector in countries like Singapore, Brazil and the United Kingdom.
- In the U.S., companies like UPS are creating special programs to hire back retired workers, specifically for the holiday rush. They call these workers “Alumni.” This allows the “Alumni,” some of which are retirees, to make extra money around the holidays, and allows UPS to gain an already trained workforce during one of their busiest times of the year.
- Williams & Sonoma experimented with hiring seasonal labor to work at home instead of in-stores for roles such as handling customer concerns over the phone, by email and on social medial. Because of this, many of these jobs went to retirees.
Here are some simple ways organizations can take a cue from the companies listed above, and begin to adapt their workforces to accommodate aging workers:
- Adjust your benefits packages to include things such as extended bereavement leave. Since extended maternity leave isn’t exactly applicable to this generation of the workforce, benefits such as extended bereavement leave, additional paid-time off, etc. can make up for it. One-size-fits-all benefits packages are becoming less effective.
- Companies can invest in innovative tools like larger computer monitors or amplified phones for those with vision and hearing loss, or offer opportunities for individuals to work remotely. Many older people don’t want to endure an hour commute to and from work in heavy rush hour traffic, but would be very happy to log-on remotely and work from the comfort of their home.
- Universities and college programs can re-think their marketing strategies to be more welcoming to older generations: Many are pursuing their first or second degrees in order to be eligible for more senior roles—or even roles outside the industries they previously worked in.
The benefits of hiring aging workers
Older workers retain unique values, skills, wisdom, reliability and judgment that add to the power of their team. Executives can take advantage of this through enlisting aging workers to be their “eyes and ears,” and executives can also pair up their new hires with their older hires for continuous “up-skilling.”
Older workers can act as valuable mentors and sponsors to younger generations.
- We surveyed over 1,000 recent college graduates last year and found that 74% of them feel their colleges and universities are failing to fully prepare them for their post-grad careers.
- In most cases, there is nothing as valuable as gaining experience “on the job,” and while programs like internships are a great start, truly pairing up new hires with older workers through programs like apprenticeships and sponsorships will close any gaps new hires may experience when entering the workforce.
Another benefit of companies hiring older workers is the balance opportunity that multi-generational workforces create. For example, older workers are more available to fill-in for younger workers when they are beginning to start families or leaving early to pick up children for childcare.
Technology is changing so quickly that no set of tech skills will be useful for very long – studies show that while knowledge doubles every year, technical skills have a half-life of just 2.5 to 5 years.
“Talent agility is the new top-earner, and managers need to recruit people of any generation who can change quickly and adapt to new methods of work.” – Daniel Newman for Forbes
The stereotypical definition of “retirement” needs to stop—both the traditional age associated with it and the activities surrounding it. Aging workers want to contribute and we, as employers, need their experience and everything they bring to the workplace. They are a valuable asset, and one we should cherish, recruit and develop.
Organizations based in countries without mandatory retirement ages must ensure their plans for future growth are inclusive of aging workers. One way companies can do this is by creating succession plans—by pipelining your plans for older workers to be in place for knowledge transferring and sharing, we can guarantee their roles will always be relevant and needed in our organizations.
Additionally, to truly be inclusive, companies must evaluate their offerings and benefits packages to include items that are truly valuable and needed for this older generation. A 401(k) plan that’s inaccessible for years without high fees or penalties might not be as appealing to an older worker.
The time to do this is now. We’re beyond the phase of simply talking about older generations in the workforce. We’re now in the phase of accommodating older generations in the workforce—and creating a win-win for all.