Online Sidebar: How to Attract and Retain Older Workers


By Robert J. Grossman August 1, 2013

August Cover 


Winners of the 2013 Best Employers for Workers Over 50 award, sponsored by AARP and the Society for Human Resource Management, offer an array of benefits, opportunities and ambience for older workers. Their advice:

Provide top-drawer benefits and pay. At the core are good health plans, sound retirement options—401(k)s, defined benefit plans or both—and decent pay. Because most older workers cite financial reasons as their main motivation for working, skimping on pay and benefits won’t make your company attractive to them.

Swarthmore College provides health care coverage for retirees younger than 65 until they’re eligible for Medicare.

WellStar Health System does not provide health care coverage for retirees; however, its older workers with 10 years’ service enjoy the option of staying onboard and being able to dip into their defined benefit pensions at age 62.

Securian Financial Group provides health benefits for retirees.

Create a caring culture. “Folks choose to stick around because they like the culture,” says Kathleen Pinkett, SPHR, senior vice president of human resources and corporate services, at Securian.

At the National Institutes of Health, a flexible, informal work environment focused on outcomes is the norm. NIH doesn’t require people to retire, says Dr. William Gahl, clinical director at the National Human Genome Research Institute, which is part of NIH. In Germany, “when scientists reach retirement age, they have to leave the building and never come back. [Employers]lose a lot of brain power.”

Reciprocate loyalty. During the recession, many employers were forced to lay off the last hired; others cut high earners. Michelin North America did neither.“We chose to share the pain by taking 6,000 employees in the U.S. below a 40-hour week for three to six months. When the crisis ended, we returned these workers to full status,” says Wayne Culbertson, director of Michelin in the UK.

Support age-blind training. Cianbro Corp.’s business requires agility to qualify for a range of construction projects. When funds dry up in one sector, the contractor seeks opportunities that often require different skills and certifications. Staff members are constantly training and reinventing themselves at company expense. “If they have a little ability and the willingness to continue to learn, we’re willing to invest in them,” says Mike Bennett, vice president of HR.

Some of Cianbro’s older workers have been displaced from manufacturing jobs. When Great Northern Paper closed its mill at Millinocket, Maine, the three Franck brothers, Mike, 56, Carl, 57, and Bob, 50, lost their jobs. Cianbro hired them, and, with training, they’ve adapted their experience to heavy construction. Bennett says, “They’re wonderful human beings doing first-rate work and mentoring others. And they’re not unique. There are thousands like the Franck brothers out there who are unemployed or underemployed. They just need a chance.”

Offer flexible work. Many older workers appreciate flexible schedules. At Solix, they can take advantage of extended office hours. “They get up early and like the idea of leaving earlier,” CEO John Parry says.

Schedule retirement workshops. Retirement planning programs are well-attended lunchtime events at Swarthmore and Securian.

Ease the transition to retirement. Most AARP award winners have full- and part-time employment options and allow people to return after retirement. Older workers seem to prefer full-time work.

Michelin features retirement-eligible part-time employment. This option allows people to work part time and maintain benefits. The company also allows retirees to return to work. So far, 250 have come back.

Securian maintains a list of retirees who are available for specific types of assignments: full-time, temporary or part-time; consulting or contract; or telecommuting or temp work.

Stanley Consultants’ informal “phased retirement” lets workers age 55 and older adjust their schedules. “We have someone who has cut back to 20 hours a week,” says Dale Sweere, HR director at Stanley Consultants.

At Cianbro, some take winter hiatuses, then return full time. Others come back part time for projects. A retired “HR manager is coming back to introduce a wellness program,” Bennett says.

Cultivate your extended family. Retirees appreciate continued contact. Michelin invites 19,600 retirees to an annual get-together and sponsors a website where they blog and talk.

Offer concierge services. At WellStar, a simple phone call brings on help with tasks such as shopping, picking up laundry and other services that older workers value.

Make wellness a priority. Older workers value wellness programs and other value-added health services. Increased productivity, better attendance and lower health care costs may be some of the advantages.

Treat older workers like everyone else. Many older workers don’t see themselves as old or with one foot out the door. They don’t want to be reminded of their age or to be asked when they’re planning to retire. Like Mary Fetzer, 62, an account manager at Securian, they seek an even playing field where they are judged the same as everyone else.

Fetzer, in her 15th year with the company, discussed retirement with her family and friends but decided against it. “I enjoy coming to work, need structure and like having people around me,” she says. Recently, she saw an internaljob posting and decided to go for it. “I was 25 years older than my competitors and was concerned it would be a factor. But my interviews were very respectful—I never heard the word ‘age’—and I was delighted when I was named to the position. Now, at least for the next three or four more years, I’m giving up the word ‘retirement.’ ”

Robert J. Grossman, a contributing editor of HR Magazine, is a lawyer and a professor of management studies at Marist College in Poughkeepsie, N.Y.


Job Finder

Find an HR Job Near You
Search Jobs


Find the Right Vendor for Your HR Needs

SHRM’s HR Vendor Directory contains over 10,000 companies

Search & Connect

HR Daily Newsletter

News, trends and analysis, as well as breaking news alerts, to help HR professionals do their jobs better each business day.