Recruiting Retirees: Opportunities, Barriers and Best Practices

By Lin Grensing-Pophal December 14, 2021
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older worker

​We are now in one of the tightest labor markets in memory, and all industries are feeling the pressure. Companies are getting increasingly desperate, but desperation can spark new ways of thinking about how to fill vacancies. Often overlooked are retirees, who represent a largely untapped source of promising talent to help stem the impacts of the Great Resignation.

Not Yesterday's Retirees

Today's retirees are different from those of years past. Many have formally "retired" only to take on jobs in other companies or industries or to become part of the burgeoning gig economy. Only 20 percent of retirees, though, say their previous employer has reached out to ask them to return due to the labor shortage, according to ResumeBuilder.com. That leaves a lot of untapped potential, Damien Birkel said.

Birkel is founder and executive director of Professionals in Transition Support Group, a career counseling service in Winston-Salem, N.C. Since 1992, the organization has assisted more than 10,000 people. He is also the author of three leadership books.

Employers are seeking older workers for a variety of reasons, including these attributes, Birkel said: "maturity, reliability, work ethic, self-sufficiency, connections and networks, curiosity, and the ability to survive and thrive in a corporate setting." Older workers, he said, "play well in the sandbox." They have nothing to prove. "They have proved themselves in the workforce for decades. That is a tremendous asset."

Tapping Into the Promise of Older Workers

ResumeBuilder's research indicates that 34 percent of retirees have thought about returning to the workforce. Employers who haven't considered tapping into this pool of potential employees should seriously consider doing so, before eager and available candidates seek opportunities elsewhere.

Carlos Ledo, an assistant general counsel and HR consultant with Engage PEO, based in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., said, "We are seeing clients take a look at their entire recruitment strategy. They are reaching out to older candidates and making adjustments to their overall recruitment efforts to attract older workers." In doing so, he said, they are using two primary methods: social media and community outreach.

Peter Corless is an HR executive with more than 30 years of leadership experience and the executive vice president of enterprise development at OnShift, a Cleveland-based human capital management software company for the senior care industry. Corless said the senior care industry is among the hardest hit by the workforce shortage. OnShift is turning to "retirees who possess a needed skill set, present a willingness to learn a new role, or both."

"To engage with—and ultimately hire—retirees, recruiters should research what social media sites retirees are using in their local area to advertise job openings," he said. "Recruiters may also consider outreach to faith-based organizations and other groups like Rotary clubs or chambers of commerce. Working with current employees of these types of organizations can also help expand the candidate pool and entice retirees to rejoin the workforce."

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Overcoming Workplace Bias

Barriers to Overcome

"Barriers to hiring older workers can often be the skill sets required for open positions," Ledo said. In addition, "some positions may not offer the flexibility that older workers may desire."

Stigma and misperceptions can also be barriers.

"Despite all of the technology in our daily lives, there is still somewhat of a stigma around how older workers may handle remote work and their savviness with technology," Ledo noted.

Birkel agreed and believes that older workers still face discrimination and suffer from various misconceptions, noting, "You are still an asset to a company whether you are 45, 55, or 65 or older." The key, he said, is to make sure your ads specifically tell older workers that you are seeking them along with other age groups.

"Older workers want a situation that fits them best—that leads to fulfillment and purpose, something that brings excitement," Ledo said. "It's really an exciting time for older workers. The pandemic has really forced the evolution of many companies from how they compensate to how they coordinate the work and how they incorporate flexibility. It usually takes a major situation to open peoples' eyes to change."

Best Practices

Rajinder Chahal, co-founder of WhiteCoatRemote.com, a job board featuring fully remote telemedicine positions for health care professionals, said the ability to work remotely may be especially appealing to retirees.

"In our experience, retirees enjoy staying active in their profession if it means ditching the commute, enjoying the comfort of their home and remaining in the sunnier climes they have perhaps migrated to," he said. Even if a position is not currently remote, Chahal suggested, consider whether it could be. "You might be surprised at just how much of an incentive this can be in recruiting retirees." 

Tailoring your recruitment approach to the retiree audience is "a key factor in successful engagement," Corless said. What may work for the broader workforce may not work for retirees. For instance, he suggested, "tout more flexibility and training, plus dental and vision insurance for those of Medicare age and health insurance for those who may not yet be on Medicare."

According to Corless, OnShift tries to attract retirees by appealing "to a desire to help others, to make a difference and to feel good about the job." It also appeals to retirees' interests in part-time schedules.

Building relationships with existing older workers and new hires can pay dividends as well, Birkel advised. When you engage effectively with retirees, you may also "create ambassadors who will help recruit other older workers," he said.

Retirees have different values and different goals when it comes to the contributions they can make to the workforce. Those contributions can be significant. If you haven't already taken steps to tap into a ready-made source of talent, this is a good time to start.

Lin Grensing-Pophal is a freelance writer in Chippewa Falls, Wis.

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