Retaining mature workers pays dividends

Recently, AARP conducted a countywide survey ("The Boomer Factor: Rethinking an Underutilized Workforce in Washoe County, Nevada," March 2009) to gauge how well local employers are adapting to labor demographic shifts and the aging workforce. With northern Nevada's unemployment rate nearly tripling over the past year, finding skilled workers may not seem as critical as before. But this is not the time for complacency. Over the next five years, most Washoe County employers will likely face a return of the shortage of qualified and unique workforce challenges as Boomers retire.

The recession has only brought on a hiatus from a tight labor market as the past five years the same employers have experienced difficulty finding qualified applicants for a variety of job positions. And it will get worse: the GenXer group is only half as large as the Boomers, further exacerbating the lack of available skilled labor.

Three major trends are emerging that will impact your available employment pool: the aging of the workforce as a whole, projected labor shortages (after the recession) and Boomers continuing to work beyond retirement age (even before the recession hit, only 10 percent of Boomers anticipated a "traditional" retirement). Consequently, employers need to become more attuned to the implications of the maturing workforce (workers 50-plus of age).

In the AARP survey, Washoe County employers were divided with respect to the importance of retaining worker knowledge and putting a process in place that allows the organization to replace or transfer the knowledge and experience of retirees or employees otherwise leaving the organization. Moreover, 62 percent do not consider employee turnover in human resource costs. Neglecting these in regular business operations could cost an organization greatly in productivity, efficiency, strategy, competitiveness and success.

Many employers are undoubtedly faced with the challenges in maintaining business during a recession. But during these times, the mature worker can represent an asset to employers. The mature worker may not only help business maintain productivity through this downturn, but they may also help a firm avoid a potential shortage of skilled workers as Boomers approach retirement. Studies indicate that this age group is open to flexible work arrangements and part-time work. So, employers should consider innovative approaches to attract and retain the very workers that possess the valued and desired qualities like: commitment to do quality work, reliable performance record, commitment to deadlines, and customer service-oriented skills identified in the AARP survey.

Retaining mature workers can require organizations to offer work arrangements and benefits properly aligned with the needs and preferences of this segment. Multiple surveys conducted by The Conference Board, Society for Human Resources Management and the Center on Aging and Work/Workplace Flexibility show that offering flexible work options can help companies retain their Boomer employees. This group is more likely to continue working at a business if they are offered incentives such as:

* flexible work arrangements (telecommuting, compressed workweeks, job sharing),

* upgraded skills training/learning opportunities,

* time off for volunteerism,

* phased-in retirement/reduced shift work and

* job autonomy.

Furthermore, a study by Ernst & Young found that hiring retirees as consultants/contractors or having an on-call pool of retirees had the highest impact on the retention of mature workers.

Many Boomers seek out options somewhere between full-time work and retirement. Organizations that offer alternative work arrangements are attractive not just to mature workers, but to other age groups who seek greater flexibility in the need to balance home and work responsibilities. With the recession, many retirees are returning to the workforce to supplement their nest eggs. Older adults tend to respond to recruiting messages that specify "mature,"" experienced" and "reliable" terms that let the older reader know that they are being sought after for employment. The federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission approves of employers targeting older workers for employment purposes. Here are some effective targeted recruitment activities: participate in open houses and career fairs specifically for older adults; advertise in sections other than the help-wanted section like, lifestyle, television or sports section, or consider different media outlets, such as church bulletins, club publications, or active adult communities' newsletters; ask current employees for referrals; consider re-hiring retirees and work with a local staffing firm if retirement programs do not encourage post-retirement re-employment.

Many organizations have previously identified older adults as being "overqualified," especially when older adults seek positions that would be considered a step-down. This is problematic in terms of equal employment opportunity. The EEOC has stated that when employers use the term "overqualified" in their staffing procedures, this is code for "too old" and may become the basis for an age discrimination lawsuit. Instead of automatically disqualifying resumes and applications for older adults seeking a lateral or downward move, employers should now examine these resumes to determine if there is a job fit. To do this, ask some specific interview questions. What is your motivation for applying for this particular position? How will you be challenged in this position? If you have had supervisory experience and are applying for a non-supervisory position, do you feel comfortable in taking instructions from others? What are your salary expectations?

Given the economic downturn, it is understandable that organizations are simply trying to stay afloat and it may seem difficult to implement new recruitment and retention strategies during these trying times. However, the economy will rebound and those organizations that have successfully retained their most experienced and skilled workers and have innovative strategies to recruit the skilled and experienced older adults to compliment their younger workforce will enhance their productivity and profitability.

Michael Rainey, dean of the Truckee Meadows Community College Workforce Development & Continuing Education Division, is also the director for the Nevada State Society for Human Resource Management Council. Contact him at


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