Hold On to Your Older Workers

Savvy companies tap into older workers’ value before they walk out the door.

In Robert DeNiro’s 2015 movie “The Intern,” he played a 70-year-old widower looking to get back into the work game. This scenario is more true to life than we think. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, some 10,000 citizens become eligible for retirement benefits every day, but many older employees choose to retire later and later. Developing these workers is an important talent consideration to ensure today’s workforce remains competitive.

Programmatically and strategically, chief learning officers can help to reinvent who mature workers are, what they mean to the workforce, and their effect on future business productivity. Older workers, known also as Maturians, become an untapped “value add” if learning leaders are prepared to relinquish antiquated thoughts aligned to chronological age, the ethnocentric attitude that exists in the United States, and embrace an international focus to address business needs now and into the future with employees who have “plenty of runway” left.

Although past workforce history in the U.S. has seen employees retiring when they reached the age of eligibility for Social Security benefits, this activity has been tempered by the economic downturn. Lost 401(k) and other retirement savings have to be replenished, turning age into a chronological number that neither represents performance nor productivity. Further, many older workers shy away from the idea of retirement in general, choosing instead to remain active at work.

CLOs are aware of the “brain trust” of knowledge and experience retiring Maturians contain. The problem is how to extract and share it with those who need it. Leaders in knowledge management are well aware of this dilemma and are connecting those who know with those who don’t as fast as humanly possible.

 “For many organizations, over 50 percent of employees will retire in the next 5 to 8 years,” said John Hovell, organizational development lead for U.K.-based BAE Systems. “Which knowledge transfer technique have they experimented and proven effective in their culture to ensure workforce capability and organizational memory is not lost?”

Available For Work

According to surveys from Deloitte, McKinsey, MBO Partners and Freelancers Union, outsourcing task work is currently a $4 billion industry, with approximately 35 percent of all work performance accomplished by nonemployees. Maturians are available to help, and according to the U.S. Labor Department, the return of the older worker is trending (Figure 1).

CO_0416_Feature2_Graph1 In 2008, the Department of Labor projected growth in labor force participation from seniors between 65 and 74 to rise 83 percent and slightly higher for those 75 and older between 2006 and 2016 (Figure 2).

That prediction seems to be holding up no matter where the numbers come from, and multiple, reputable entities are monitoring the situation. For instance, according to the BLS Employment Projections program, this year, workers 65 and over are expected to account for 6.1 percent of the total labor force, up sharply from their 2006 share of 3.6 percent. In 2014, the U.S. Department of Labor projected those 55 and older will become 26 percent of the workforce by 2022.

Having established their availability, the challenge is how leaders keep them engaged so they don’t leave/retire. Further, if they do leave, how can employers lure them back? Once they’re in house, how can leaders utilize their knowledge, skills and abilities to mentor and coach other workers? How can they use the Maturians experience on projects aligned to business metrics, high-potential development programs, etc.?

Many Maturians are ready for their next career opportunity. They appreciate independence and nonstructured roles, and a creative CLO can use them to address business, human resource and learning and development challenges within their organizations. To find the right fit for this experienced work cohort, learning leaders might want to embrace more of an international perspective.

 “Everyone is valued for their uniqueness and contribution — roles are created based on need and filled based on experience — with movement from job-based roles to task-based networks of people,” Hovell said.

The high-performing networks common in global business environments might be the perfect platform for Maturians to add value. These employees are ideal at the front of the talent market where tasks and passions can be aligned to supply and demand and simultaneously insure unique and critical knowledge is not lost because of a retirement or attrition.

The Right Fit

Learning leaders with a keen awareness of talent management know the Maturians represent a substantial knowledge base that likely will not be filled by any market influx of college grads and MBAs. Mike Hammer, author of “Boomerville: Getting Off the Corporate Merry-Go-Round,” said, “No matter which future course your enterprise plots, success may hinge on the knowledge veteran employees have accrued over years of learning, knowledge which may be critical to future decisions [companies will] make about talent replacement and retention … A good first step is to let boomer supervisors make an honest and objective list of what abilities they believe their team[s] might lose … similarly, what abilities would be needed if the position opened tomorrow?”

CLOs need to identify how many of their employees 55 and older plan on remaining actively employed. They need to know if there is an opportunity to remain with the company, how would they fit and be utilized within the workforce — full-time, part-time or as a consultant with a flexible work arrangement.

This information will inform any development necessary as well as what knowledge sharing practices — action learning, stretch assignments, formal or informal mentoring or reverse-mentoring engagements — should be employed to retain valuable Maturian knowledge.

CO_0416_Feature2_Graph2_WEB_454x239“CLOs need to look beyond traditional job roles for Maturians by leveraging their talents for the right work at the right time,” said Dan Carusi, chief learning officer at Deltek. “A flexible, project-based work approach truly capitalizes on Maturians’ skills and expertise.”

Change happens. Learning leaders are responsible to CEOs, who are tracking everything from performance to cost. The benefits of employing Maturians as consultants, for instance, are logical and cost-effective.

For example, currently retired or soon eligible to be retired Maturians armed with years of knowledge, skills and abilities can coach, mentor and complete important projects they are passionate about — on a schedule convenient for them — at a pay rate that is less than an organization might incur hiring a full-time employee attached to an expensive total compensation package.

Hammer said this employment approach for aging workers is neither a training nor learning strategy, but rather a transformation strategy using on-demand Maturians to bridge challenging knowledge and performance gaps. Further, if the CLO can identify Maturians as the best people with the knowledge to perform and execute the responsibilities of a role, they have identified and potentially found an answer to the challenge.

“Recent data shows that 30 percent of the gig [on-demand] workers are baby boomers,” Hammer said. “Predictions suggest as much as 50 percent of all work processes will be performed by ‘gig’ers,’ or nonemployees.”

To succeed in business, being lean and agile is no longer enough. Leaders must learn how to anticipate tomorrow’s business today — before their competitors do. Chief learning officers understand that those who can envision the future most accurately will have the biggest advantage. They know they cannot change the past, but they can shape the future with their present actions.

Chief learning officers can embrace the fact that many future disruptions, problems and game-changing opportunities are predictable and represent unprecedented opportunities to gain advantage. Maturians present one such advantage.

This author is a Chief Learning Officer magazine editorial advisory board member.