Rethinking the concept of retirement for an aging workforce

WorkforceEmployee engagement and retaining top talent are current topics that get frequent attention. Whilst organisations recognise the importance of keeping young and talented members in their business, there is another vital group that make up the modern day workforce which is constantly overlooked. This group includes the employees of an organisation that are nearing (or have reached) the typical retirement age. With economic pressures and a general rise in the average life expectancy, the people who fall into this group may not want to retire just yet. Employers should to begin recognise the potential value of keeping employees on as they move onto the next phase of their lives, especially where traditional retirement my not be an option or desired.

Organisations are being challenged to rethink the concept of retirement and the role that these people play in the organisation. With a willing workforce who have a world of knowledge and experience to offer, why aren’t more organisations embracing them?

Redefining contribution, role, and remuneration

Cost, abilities, and the need to make space for the next generation of top talent are often cited as the reasons behind retiring employees when they reach an appropriate age. The costs in question are related to the seniority level of the individual, older employees often occupy high ranking positions and have the remuneration packages to go with it. This can be addressed by redefining roles and how these individuals contribute to the organisation as they move towards retirement. Rather than rewarding someone based on their level/years spent at the company, organisations can base the package value on the job and the work required to fulfil the responsibilities associated with it.

Older employees can be used to train and mentor others and equip them with the knowledge and skills needed to take over tasks that become unrealistic for them to carry out themselves. The changing nature of the role which they occupy calls for a remuneration review, addressing the costly issue of keeping on an aging workforce. Their performance can also be supported through small office changes such as brighter light to allow employees to see better, or ensuring easy access to restroom facilities. Not only will this allow older employees to perform better, organisations that have implemented such measures have observed increases in productivity from their entire workforce as a whole.

What motivates them?

The financial gain achieved by working beyond traditional retirement age, though not the only motivation, is a very significant contributing factor. Many people around the age of retirement have parents that need caring for as well as children who are dependent on them. This not only leaves them with many financial responsibilities, it prevents them from building up a retirement fund to live off of, making their job essential to their livelihood.

For these employees, working is as much about social and intellectual engagement as it is about the financial gain. Having the opportunity to work longer gives people an extended purpose in life and grants them the dignity of remaining connected to a positive identity. These individuals offer a unique combination of skills and capabilities that can be used to fill skill shortages that may exist in an organisation as well as use their interests to provide innovative ideas. They bring the preferences of an older, and often overlooked, customer base to the table, allowing organisations the opportunity to expand into previously unserved markets. Over and above their contribution to an organisation’s success, engaging an older workforce will ultimately improve the local GDP due to the increased amount of people with disposable income. With their ability to have an impact on both organisational and national levels, it is quite startling that more businesses do not embrace this underutilised resource at their disposal.

How to keep these employees going

There are many measures an organisation can take in order to prepare their aging workforce for an extended career life. Here are 4 initiatives that organisations can use to address the challenges of having an aging workforce:

  1. Establish a mentorship programme between your older employees and those on the opposite end of the scale. Young employees can be mentors in new technology and business advancements that the older population generally struggles with. The old employees can in turn provide mentorship and guidance based on their years of business experience, contributing to the next generation of top talent.
  2. Ensure that all employees have access to training programmes. This will assist your aging workforce in consistently keeping their skills and knowledge up-to-date, easing the concern of the capabilities of older staff members.
  3. Make work arrangements more flexible. Some older employees are not ready to stop working, they simply have less energy to push through an 8 hour day or they have frail parents who command their time and care. Making work flexible through systems such as flexi hours and remote access will allow employees to plan their work around the duties in their personal lives.
  4. Have career talks with employees to keep up-to-date with their needs and expectations, both in their professional and private lives. During this conversation, indicate the direction in which the organisation is moving. This will not only allow your employees to test the compatibility between themselves and the organisation, it allows key skills needed to reach organisational goals to be identified. These conversations will assist the employee to prepare for the future by ensuring that they have the necessary skills to stay relevant in the long term.

A mature, highly experienced, and knowledgeable workforce can prove to be a big asset to an organisation, and one that many are yet to embrace. Organisations need to move beyond generational stereotypes and avoid judging people’s abilities based on their birth year. Instead, businesses should embrace the presence of older employees. They should ensure that the necessary systems are in place to utilise their expertise towards the achievement of greater organisational success whilst allowing these employees to continue to have significance and purpose within their daily contributions.

Career, Leadership, Succession