Rand: Keep Experienced Workers from Walking Out the Door


By A. Barry Rand, CEO of AARP February 1, 2012

Question: What advice should HR professionals give to other business leaders about the need to recruit and retain older workers?

Answer: To obtain support for an older worker talent strategy, HR professionals should remind business leaders that the U.S. workforce is aging quickly. Aging Baby Boomers are causing a dramatic increase in the sheer number of people over the age of 60. And because people are living longer, more productive lives, increased longevity is changing the face of America.

A July 12, 2011, Bloomberg News report, based on U.S. Department of Labor statistics, indicated that U.S. employees old enough to retire outnumbered teenagers in the workforce for the first time since 1948.

AARP’s research survey, Staying Ahead of the Curve, released in September 2008, found that seven out of 10 employees aged 45 to 74 expected to continue working after they retired, mainly in a part-time capacity.

In a way, this is good news. After all, if large numbers of retirement-aged Boomers simply retire, organizations will have to struggle to replace their skills, knowledge and experience. They will lose not only the organizational history and institutional knowledge such workers possess but might not have enough new workers to fill the void. So, there is a very real business advantage to retaining older workers.

Older workers bring a wealth of skills and experience to the workplace. Several AARP research studies have found that employers value older workers for their commitment to doing quality work; for getting along well with others; for having solid performance records; for possessing basic skills in reading, writing, and arithmetic; for being someone to count on in a crisis and for being loyal and dedicated to the company. Moreover, they tend to have low rates of turnover and high levels of engagement.

But there’s another side to this issue that business leaders might find even more compelling.

As the customer base grows older, businesses need employees who understand and can relate to such customer’s wants, needs, fears and dreams. Thus, retaining, retraining and recruiting older workers is a practical business response to a growing and more affluent age 50-plus consumer marketplace.

In addition to making the business case, HR professionals should have an older worker employment strategy embedded in their overall talent management strategy that includes eight basic elements:

  • A workforce planning effort designed to identify potential skills gaps resulting from older worker retirements.
  • Mentoring and other programs to foster knowledge transfer from long-term employees to entrants to the workplace.
  • Flexible work arrangements such as part-time work, telecommuting and phased retirement.
  • Training and development opportunities customized to meet the needs and learning styles of such workers.
  • Health and other benefits geared toward older workers’ needs.
  • Effective identification and delivery of workplace accommodations.
  • Programs designed to foster intergenerational harmony and collaboration.
  • Recruiting programs targeted to reach potential applicants from this demographic group.

Employers can access the free, online AARP-SHRM Workforce Assessment Tool, which helps employers analyze their efforts compared to the eight areas identified above and provides suggestions on how to improve them. The assessment takes about 40 minutes to complete and has been used by more than 3,000 organizations, including many Fortune 500 companies.

The tool and additional information and resources can be found on the SHRM We Know Next website as well.

This great resource is one of several important projects AARP and SHRM are carrying out jointly through their partnership to raise awareness of older worker issues and to provide resources and strategies to address them.

A. Barry Rand is CEO of AARP.


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