It seems like every generation carries its own stereotypes when it comes to workforce behavior: Millennials are entitled, Gen X-ers are unmotivated and Baby Boomers are completely out of touch. But what’s the reality? Millennials tend to be hopeful and resilient, Gen X-ers are highly adaptable and Baby Boomers…well, haven’t they retired by now?
Not even close. Get used to Boomers because they are here to stay. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, “older workers will constitute the fastest-growing segment of the workforce from 2014 to 2024. While the total number of workers is expected to increase by 5 percent over those 10 years, the number of workers ages 65 to 74 will swell by 55 percent. For people 75 and older, the total will grow a whopping 86 percent, according to BLS projections.” I see this firsthand, as my 88 year-old mother still runs her home-based business.
Why They Stay in the Workforce?
There are a number of reasons that mature workers remain in the workforce. The first is that they are living longer. According to the National Institute on Aging, life expectancy nearly doubled during the 20th century with a ten-fold increase in the number of Americans age 65 and older. According to Pew Research, the majority of Boomers are still in the workforce.
If we live longer, we need to earn longer. The average 401(k) savings for those age 60-69 is just $195,500, indicating that they may not have enough savings to retire. Research from the Stanford Center on Longevity shows that nearly one-third of Baby Boomers had no money saved in retirement plans in 2014, when they were on average 58 years old. With the high unemployment and economic uncertainty foisted upon us with the Covid-19 pandemic, it is hard to believe that these workers will have sufficient retirement savings anytime soon.
Additionally, since Social Security benefits increase with each year that you delay claiming them, workers are incented to work past the traditional retirement age of 65.
Another reason for staying in the workforce is fulfillment and purpose. In the wise words of Stephen Hawking, “Work gives you meaning and purpose, and life is empty without it.”
Benefits of Mature Workers in Workplace
Older workers have historical perspectives and institutional knowledge that can be very valuable. In a recent conversation with neuroscientist and international speaker, Kelly Tremblay, Ph.D., she stated, “… one of the things that peaks later in life is “crystallized intelligence.” It peaks around 60 to 70 years of age and comes from years of experience and prior learning. It gives us perspective. And it certainly gives us resilience in times of pressure. Think about world leaders and CEOs, who are purposely retained because of their talent, regardless of age. These people can bring vision and historical context and engage some of the more junior people to execute in ways that play to the strengths of the younger generations in the workplace.”
Mature workers may have some of the highly desirable attributes that are attractive to employers. According to SHRM, these attributes include: loyalty and dedication, higher engagement, a strong work ethic, developed professional networks and good communication skills.
Creating a Welcoming Workplace for Older Workers
To attract, engage and retain older workers, there are a number of considerations employers must address. Dr. Tremblay challenges, “think of aging as a new accessibility and inclusion opportunity.”
Age bias is a real issue. This is not just an issue in hiring, when qualified workers are passed over at ages as young as 40, but also in the way older workers are treated in the workplace. According to the AARP, bias comes in the form of being passed over for rewards, promotions and training opportunities. Including age related bias as a core element of diversity and inclusion programs will help create awareness for how widespread this issue is.
Older workers may also need workplace accommodations such as modifications for visual and hearing impairments. Dr. Tremblay suggests, “For those with low vision there are automated text-to-speech readers, websites and PDFs that can be read aloud. For those with hearing loss, which is my specialty, there is nothing worse than an open workspace. As we age, one in three people over 65 has some degree of disabling hearing loss.” A text telephone device, or TTY, is one of many reasonable accommodations that employers may make available to an employee with hearing loss.
Let’s embrace the many benefits of having older workers in the workplace and welcome and appreciate the valuable contributions they make.