The “Silver Tsunami” and How to Make the Most of Your Older Employees

The Strengths of Older Employees

In the business world, and more specifically within talent management, it seems to be all about the Millennials. Recruiters, human resource experts, and industry insiders are all focused on how to attract, manage and retain workers in their 20s and 30s. This is undoubtedly a crucial segment of the workforce and as many older workers retire it’s these younger professionals who are stepping into leadership roles and making a big impact on how business is done in the U.S. and globally.

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At the same time, older workers are also essential to the workforce and the economy.

UNC’s Kenan-Flagler Business School recently released their Ideas@Work materials, which are “Business Insights From UNC Executive Development.” Within this talent management-centric research one topic was focused on pretty heavily, and that’s how to maximize older workers in your organization.

The whitepaper on the topic said the following:

The globe is aging at an alarming rate. According to a January, 2014 study released by the Pew Research Center, the global population of people age 65 and older will triple to 1.5 billion by mid-century. Many world leaders are growing increasingly concerned about what the impact of the aging population will mean to their country’s economies as they consider pension and health care systems, social security systems, and more. At a global level, many economists believe the aging population has the potential to slow the world economy. The aging population is creating a number of challenges, as well as new opportunities, and the implications are far-reaching. Companies need to understand and prepare for this unprecedented shift, yet a recent survey on aging by the Society for Human Resource Management found that most U.S. employers appear in denial and are woefully unprepared for the business realities of an aging workforce.

In a society where everything can be focused on newer and better, it’s important to look at the strengths of older workers. One way older workers stand out is because of their loyalty and dedication. They also tend to be used to the highs and lows that can come in the working environment, making them well-suited to weather storms that may come.

Many employers find older workers also have strong soft skills, including interpersonal relationship building skills that can be lost in a world dominated by digital communication.

Above all else older workers bring something to the table that less experienced workers simply can’t compete with according to the Kenan-Flagler paper, and that’s knowledge. This includes human knowledge, social knowledge and cultural knowledge. This isn’t to say younger workers aren’t knowledgeable, but they simply don’t have the skills and background that comes with being in the workforce for decades.

In addition to these generalized strengths often found in older workers, the Kenan-Flagler white paper also points out that many industries are finding themselves on the precipice of an unprecedented talent shortage. At the same time, the workforce is getting older, as the U.S. Census reports the number of workers in the U.S. aged 65 and older will grow 75 percent by 2050, yet the number of employees aged 25 to 54 is only expected to increase two percent by 2050. What this means is there just won’t be enough younger workers to fill many jobs and the spots that are left open by the mass retirement that’s coming to the U.S. economy.

So what’s the solution?

In many ways, it’s to find a balance between a talent management strategy that caters to the needs and wants of the Millennial generation while simultaneously fostering the needs of older workers. You can’t focus your efforts exclusively on one group above the other and expect to be successful in the changing marketplace.

The good news is, there are some places where these strategies can converge, streamlining your talent management strategy and making it one that’s multi-generational.

Engaging Older Workers

One of the things many older workers are looking for, particularly highly skill individuals who may want to return to work or stay in the workforce but don’t necessarily have to is a flexible work environment.

It’s similar to what Millennials are searching for in many instances.

There are quite a few different flexible work situations that work well when working to woo both older and younger workers—for example, telecommuting, seasonal work, flextime and also creative and compressed work weeks.

These flexible situations are positive for both employers and employees. It’s possible for employers to find the talent they need, and in particular highly skilled talent, and in many cases they may even hire them for specific projects or to fill mentoring roles, but older workers have a sense of freedom. They feel as if they can slowly ease toward retirement, rather than being shoved out of the workforce when they’re not ready.

To expand on the idea of mentoring roles, this is another way Millennial and Boomer-centric talent management strategies can converge. Millennials tend to really value the sense that they’re being coached, receiving regular feedback and being developed as they move along in their career. At the same time, Boomers feel more engaged when they feel appreciated, useful and as if they’re able to contribute their many years of experience to their position. When you’re building a mentorship program into your talent management strategy, you’re focusing your efforts on multiple age groups in one streamlined way.

Finally, invest in older employees. If you want them to stick around and be a valuable asset to your organization, it’s important to train them and develop them. Often businesses feel like it’s not worth investing in an older worker if they’re just going to be headed straight for retirement. Yet, these are the workers that tend to move around less from company to company, so you may actually have them for a longer period than you would a younger worker who’s just starting their career and looking for the best possible opportunity. It’s not only skills training that may be of valuable to the older segment of your employee population—while they tend to have strong communication skills with clients and co-workers who are similar in age to themselves, they tend to have a harder time managing or being managed by younger employees. Build this leadership and soft skills training into your program for both Millennials and Boomers to create a workplace environment that runs more smoothly among all age groups.

What are your thoughts about hiring older employees?

January 18, 2016   Updated :November 16, 2016   age discrimination, ageism, older workers   

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