By Rose Miller
As the first wave of this generation begins reaching 55 in 2001 and heads toward retirement, the workforce could lose substantial numbers of experienced workers from all walks of life.
Most boomers have neither the inclination nor the financial means for early retirement. According to a recent study, 80 percent of those born between 1948 and 1965 expect to work past age 65. Compare that with the roughly 10 percent of the over-65 group who held jobs in 1998. In other words, they will become “boomerangs”.
Baby boomers will be entering their final working years. People are living longer, staying healthy and active longer, and working longer. I’m personally kicking and screaming toward old age. Like me, many workers want to defer retirement, either for financial reasons or for the personal satisfaction of working.
Some senior-aged people who had retired have needed to re-enter the workforce because their retirement savings have proven to be inadequate. Others are going back to work because they decided they retired too early and are bored. To quote one of my consults, who retired and now works part time, “There’s only so much golf I can play each week.”
Many organizations are finding great value in bringing back retired employees to fill hard-to-find skills. Many older workers make valuable contributions in the workplace. They have years of experience to draw on. They have honed numerous important work skills over the years, making them highly competent workers. They have a substantial knowledge of the job and the organization. Older workers also bring different perspectives to the job and contribute to workplace diversity.
There are many myths about older workers. For example, that they:
• Tend to stifle creativity in an organization with their old-fashioned ideas.
• Have a harder time grasping new ideas, concepts, procedures, and techniques.
• Have higher rates of absenteeism than younger workers.
Tend to be less flexible than their younger co-workers.
• Are most costly to train.
• Are less likely to keep abreast of new developments in their field.
One strategy to meet workforce shortages is to leverage older workers and retirees. This population is generally self-directed and motivated to learn new things. The truth is actually opposite to the perception said about older workers not being able to learn.
• Older workers tend to be more reliable than younger employees.
• They generally show a higher level of loyalty and commitment to the organization.
• As a group, they tend to be highly motivated to do their work and do it well.
• Older workers have lived through change and adapt to new methods easily.
• They are usually highly productive and work carefully, making few errors.
Combined with their experience and knowledge, all this means that older workers often require less supervision than younger workers. Smart companies have planned succession, phased retirement programs that gradually reduce work schedules and hours, and along with creating alternative roles with the organization.
Programs include bridge jobs where part-time or short-term jobs are designed in the employee’s field or a new line of work. Employers can ask older workers to help with training new and inexperienced workers. The older worker’s dissemination of intellectual capital can reduce training time in half. In addition, these programs allow all workers to move gradually from full-time employment into retirement in a fair and consistent manner.
The average age of the American population is rising and with it, 41 percent of the current workforce are boomers. Companies lose when they fail to capitalize on the knowledge and potential of their aging workforce. Older workers frequently have a level of experience, business acumen, and personal maturity that makes for conscientious effort, excellent customer and client service, and better decision-making ability than their younger peers.
In many organizations, older workers know the customers and suppliers. They know the internal operating systems and the influence networks, as well as the strengths and weaknesses of the product line. They know the firm’s strategy, and they know how to get the job done.
In an era when knowledge management is valued, the older worker is a knowledge holder and a wisdom maker. Not planning for the loss of intellectual capital means the loss of insights and can lead to unproductive chaos.
Imagine instead the productivity increases that the corporate world would experience by making the best use of the hundreds of thousands of aging boomers on the payrolls.
Fortunately, by retaining, revitalizing, and retraining the most skilled, savvy workers in the workforce, we can improve productivity— and people’s lives—well into the future.