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Guest Thinkers

Wanted: New Employer Thinking for an Older Workplace

An older workforce is a new world for employers. An endless supply of young workers and the social construction of ‘retirement ’ kept the average worker age relatively young. That was yesterday. Today many regions of the United States, and in all other industrialized nations, there is a drop in the number of younger people available to employers. Some industries (including government agencies) unable to attract the next generation of professionals, particularly transportation, engineering, utilities, and petro-chemical, are graying faster than others. Beyond specific industries, badly battered retirement savings have encouraged many ‘retirement age’ employees to stay in the workplace. And for many others, work is more than money, it is a means to remain productive, engaged and socially connected.

So what are some of the new challenges older workers pose to employers? I had the pleasure to discuss the new demands of an aging workplace with Tom Joseph, Senior Vice President, Bank of America Merrill Lynch Retirement & Benefit Plan Services (to read that interview click here). We both agreed that employers and a graying workplace have reached a tipping point demanding new innovations in work life, benefits and beyond.

Here are just a few areas that require reengineering workplace recruitment and retention strategies as well as creative product and service innovation from employer partners who provide financial products, insurance, employee assistance programs, health & well-being services and more.

  • Health & Well-being Support – More than providing health insurance, employers will increasingly seek interventions to keep employees healthy in their youth to reduce lifetime healthcare costs and increased productivity across the workspan.
  • Longevity & Financial Planning – Retirement planning and participation in savings programs sponsored by employers will remain a priority – but financial services providers will need to work with employers and employees to provide more than rational financial products. Facilitating realistic conversations and planning for a longer life, e.g., where to live in old age, the price of independent living post-work, how to finance informal caregiving, or end of life planning, will be key to gaining employee attention and engaging them in meaningful behaviors such as purposeful savings, purchase of long-term care insurance, etc.
  • Lifelong Education & Training – Any worker or employer who believes that education received in the first two decades of life will adequately respond to technological changes and market challenges over four or five decades of work is delusional. A new generation of employer partners in employee education will emerge and go beyond onsite training, an occasional online course or continuing worksite certification.
  • Flexible Work & Benefits – Older employees indicate that while financial compensation is important, flexibility is more important. Workplace policies that provide for a longer work life but perhaps a shorter work week will become more the norm to enable caregiving, going back to school, or simply developing a new hobby. Likewise, older employees will seek flexible benefits that address the changing needs of older workers from informal caregiving to accessing services that support health, well-being, and trusted providers that support independent living, etc.

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