Grey Matters – Why and How to Engage Older Workers

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cool guy in a suitJobless people aged 55 and over in the US remain unemployed for an average of 53 weeks, and in the UK the number of over 50s who have been unemployed for over 12 months has risen by 52% to a 10 year high.

It easy to think that maybe this is intentional and that maybe older workers would want to be retiring and enjoying the fruits of their life long labor. But, this would be wrong to a large degree as studies show that 70% of American workers plan to continue to work either full-time or part time after they retire from their main jobs.

But, there is a more fundamental disconnect that you are all probably aware of, e.g. while older, highly skilled workers are struggling to get back into employment, currently 33% of businesses in the US reported having few or no qualified applicants for job openings, according to the NFIB.

So, there is not only a strong moral imperative for employers to become better at hiring and retaining older workers, but there are robust commercial reasons for better engagement with older workers, e.g business can find resources for roles that would otherwise lay empty, increasing output.

Added to this, the working population as a percentage of the total population is shrinking; this is due to a lower recent birth rate and the fact that 10,000 baby boomers will reach 65 every day for the next 20 years. This means that recruiters will simply have less people to choose from, which means that recruiters will need to be able to recruit effectively from all generations in order to meet their resourcing demands.

Businesses are beginning to recognize this need for better engagement with the older workers, as a Poll by the AARP and SHRM found that 72% of organizations have identified the pending retirement of baby boomers as a problem that needs to be addressed.

This means that it is very appropriate time to provide some some tips and guidance on how to effectively engage with older workers in the recruitment and retention process and these are shown below.

1. Offer Flexible Working arrangements

Older workers will have accumulated life commitments, such as caring for older relations and babysitting for Gen X and Y working parents. Several studies and expert authorities highlight the value and appeal of flexible working to older workers – as this enables them to more effectively balance work and life commitments. A poll by AARP suggests that 27% of companies are adopting flexible working arrangements to engage with older workers.

2. Designing more part-time roles and job shares

The same AARP poll revealed that 24% of companies were actively creating part-time roles and job shares to appeal to older workers in order to increase their ability to both attract and retain older workers.

3. Hiring retired employees as consultants to retain their skills

The poll also showed that nearly a third of companies were developing policies around leveraging the vast experience and knowledge of older workers by hiring retired employees back in to the business as consultants. It is a great way to both retain older employees and more importantly to entice them back into the work-place.

4. Give older workers opportunities to act as mentors.

Research from suggests that younger workers are more focused on ‘mobility’, ‘promotion’ and ‘upward salary’, yet older workers are more interested in: ‘stability’, ‘something to do’, ‘reasons to be useful’ and ‘ways to interact’. This looks like a match made in heaven? Why not tap into the experience and maturity of older workers and engage them as mentors to help develop younger workers.

5. Brand your business as being open to older workers

When develop marketing collateral for your business, ensure that it has plenty of imagess of older workers either as staff or as users of your products and services (where relevant) to help build a culture and brand that is welcoming to older workers.

The picture is clear; the older worker is currently being under utilized in a time when the workforce is shrinking in relative terms, meaning the position is unsustainable – employers must begin to effectively engage with older workers making them a productive and core feature of their workforce.

Kazim Ladimeji is a Chartered Member of the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development, and has been a practicing HR professional for 14 years. Kazim is the Director of The Career Cafe: a resource for start-ups, small business and job seekers.