The experienced workforce, which includes workers over age 50, is a rapidly growing, influential talent segment. Today's longer life expectancies have led to longer, less-conventional careers for experienced workers — but employers often find themselves challenged to capitalize on this demographic mega-trend. In short, most companies aren't "age ready." As we cover more completely in an article on the longevity challenge, most established organizations simply aren't in a position to capture the value of experienced workers. They still rely on the outdated assumption that people want to retire in their early 60s and can afford to do so; they aren't focused on generational diversity or combating ageism in their ranks. Most organizations also aren't prepared to offer the alternative work arrangements, technical training and career development opportunities that experienced workers will need to be successful in the digital age.
Empowering the Experienced Workforce
The longer employers fail to recognize the magnitude of the issue, the more they will be at risk — for age-related lawsuits, waning productivity and loss of valuable institutional knowledge. To become age-ready employers, it's important to better understand the significant presence and potential of an experienced workforce. Here are 10 things any company can do to kick-start that process:
- Collect and analyze your age-profile data to explore demographic and skills pinch points. Rather than relying on generalized assumptions about your experienced workfers, take a research-based approach to better understand the value of their contributions and how to position them for success.
- Develop and implement the people and career strategies that embrace the experienced workforce. Go back to the data to examine how they're being hired, trained, promoted and exited, and evaluate whether those talent practices align with business needs. If necessary, consider placing more emphasis on enabling experienced workers through development opportunities, alternative career pathways and late-career benefits, such as pre-retirement education and counseling.
- Understand what impact your retirement plan design has on the trajectory of retirement readiness and labor flow. Employers that ignore retirement risk are often met with detrimental surprises. For example, when too many experienced workers delay retirement, it can cause a bottleneck and high turnover among up-and-coming talent who are seeking promotions. On the other hand, when too many retirements happen at once, it can drain the company of institutional knowledge, specialized skills and customer relationships. A more proactive company can statistically evaluate these risks and work with employees to manage the flow of retirements deliberately.
- Initiate conversations with employees about how they might work differently. Unquestionably, today's world of work looks very different from the time when people over 50 first started their careers. But rather than write off experienced workers as being "out of touch," companies should help them make the most of modern advancements to boost their performance to new heights. Experienced workers may also be called upon to take on mentoring and coaching roles, as well as tackle projects that draw on their deep knowledge.
- Examine and proactively address how ageism might manifest in your organization. Analyze pay, bonuses, performance, promotion and recruitment statistics through a lens focused on aging. In addition, make concrete plans to ensure that age diversity is prioritized at the same level as diversity of race, gender and sexual orientation.
- Develop a lifelong learning attitude that positions people to embrace the jobs of the future. Focus on driving an organizational culture supported by specific programs that encourage ongoing training, education and reskilling for people of all ages.
- Measure productivity levels across different age and position cohorts in your organization. Sophisticated data analysis can reveal invaluable insights, such as learning how the productivity of individuals and groups in certain job roles may change with age. You can then use these findings to create strategies that put the right people in the right jobs at the right time.
- Implement an effective flexible-working strategy. Thanks largely to technology, traditional methods of "getting the work done" have changed dramatically, and this affects experienced workers as much as anyone. Employers must look beyond a basic telecommuting policy to consider the full spectrum of which jobs can be done when, where and by whom — whether it's a full-time employee, a part-time contractor, a remote freelancer, an automated program or a combination of these.
- Develop and implement a program offering support for those who have caregiver responsibilities. Experienced workers may not have young children at home, but many care for their elderly parents. Affording these employees the same level of flexibility, emotional support and financial benefits as younger employees with caregiving responsibilities can boost morale and productivity.
- Create and sustain an inclusive culture that supports and enables your experienced-worker strategy. Ensuring the success of new, age-ready strategies requires visible and vocal support from leadership, open and honest communication with employees and devoted resources designed to facilitate change. Mercer's full point of view on the longevity challenge, "Are You Age-Ready?,” offers detailed insights to help companies understand their experienced workforce and lay the groundwork for an age-ready employment strategy.