A shift is emerging in how companies see—and value—older workers as labor shortages continue in certain industries and roles. More companies are recognizing that their Baby Boomer population represents a talent pool that should be nurtured.
Employers are “finally seeing the light,” said Kraig Kleeman, CEO and founder of The New Workforce, a global outsourcing company based in Chicago. “Older employees, especially Baby Boomers, are invaluable. [And] with job spots to fill and wisdom to harness, companies are getting creative to keep these seasoned pros in the game.”
With increased recognition of this demographic’s talent potential, employers are finding ways to reinforce and add benefits that appeal to older workers.
“Recent trends in workforce deployment have emphasized the importance and value of hiring and retaining older employees,” said John Cascone, senior vice president of Flex HR, adding that to retain this demographic, it’s important for organizations to understand what they value and to ensure benefits offerings are aligned with these values.
“Several factors to consider in retaining valued older workers are support from corporate leadership, flexibility in work scheduling, and continuing health and retirement benefits,” he said.
What trends are emerging as organizations design benefits plans to attract and retain a Baby Boomer workforce? Here’s what some employers are doing.
Stressing the Value of Existing, Traditional Benefits
Older employees are notably more at risk of leaving as they are near, or past, traditional retirement age. From that perspective, there are a number of ways companies can leverage or augment their benefits to appeal to this demographic.
Charlie Clark, director of total rewards at Customer.io, a fully remote and globally distributed messaging platform based in Portland, Ore., said the company makes it a point to identify and communicate about the benefits that are considered valuable by the company’s older employees. They include:
- Core health, dental and vision plans that are paid for at 100 percent for employees and their families.
- 401(k) and Roth IRA matching.
- Company-provided life and disability insurance, with the ability to add more coverage at discounted rates.
- Company contributions to health savings accounts for eligible employees.
- Legal advising plans.
- Accident and critical illness plans.
Many companies have these benefits, and not just for an older employee population. However, they may not be doing enough to remind employees—especially older employees—of the value these benefits may hold for them, experts said.
Retirement and health benefits top the list of benefits workers in the 50- to 64-year-old demographic value most, according to research from the Employee Benefit Research Institute. But even workers older than 64, who are eligible for Medicare, have health and wellness needs employers can address through their benefits offerings.
Flexibility tops the wish lists of many older workers when it comes to ways their employers could keep them in the workforce.
“Loads of older workers are looking for a chill work/life balance,” Kleeman said. “Think of working from home, part-time gigs or flexible hours.”
Mark Stratton Berry, SHRM-CP, senior human resources specialist with Insperity, a national HR provider headquartered in Kingwood, Texas, agreed. “Employers are recognizing that Baby Boomers value the opportunity to work remotely as much as younger generations and are continuing to offer remote work,” Berry said.
He pointed to a 2023 McKinsey & Company report indicating that Baby Boomers aged 55-64 ranked workplace flexibility as the third-most important reason why they left one job for another. “Baby Boomers with children or grandchildren can use remote work to join on a family trip to another state or fulfill their dreams of traveling for an extended period,” he said.
For some of the same reasons, older workers also value flexible schedules, Berry said. “Flex schedules enable workers to shift their hours earlier or later to meet their personal obligations.” That, he explained, “can be helpful for family obligations like school pickups and drop-offs or for fitting in medical appointments.”
Berry also pointed to a new type of flexibility that organizations are offering—grandparent leave, offering paid leave to grandparents when their children give birth or adopt a child. It’s a trend that’s sometimes referred to as “grandternity” leave, according to The Wall Street Journal, which calls it a “new way to keep older workers from quitting.”
Focusing on Health and Wellness
One reason it’s important to retain older employees in the workplace is because research suggests that working is good for our health. For instance, Harvard Health Publishing reported that “benefits such as mental stimulation and social engagement are associated with staving off chronic disease.”
Promoting healthy aging—especially from employers—is also valued. Harvard Business Review reported that employers can play an important role by fostering “a happier, healthier and more productive workforce by encouraging employees to safeguard their physical and mental health through preventative strategies, recommended screenings and seeking care when needed.”
Some employers are also finding unique ways to meet aging employees’ specific health and wellness needs. For instance, menopause benefits are a small, but rising, workplace trend.
As SHRM Online reported in November, while only about 4 percent of companies that provide sick leave are offering additional leave benefits for menopause, interest is growing, with 32 percent of employer respondents to an NFP survey indicating it’s an option they would be open to offering within the next five years. Meanwhile, a Bank of America report indicated that 54 percent of American women between the ages of 40-65 would welcome menopause-specific benefits.
Promoting Financial Well-Being
Financial well-being is another element of overall wellness—and one valued by older workers, given their proximity to retirement. For that reason, experts said, employers can craft, communicate and tailor those benefits for their older populations.
“As Baby Boomers and Gen Xers get closer to the ends of their careers, we’ll see a bigger emphasis from employees and employers on financial wellness and retirement preparedness,” said Michelle Bonam, vice president of organizational effectiveness at Ceridian, an HR software and services firm based in Minneapolis.
“With interest rates rising, inflation complicating the cost of living, and an uncertain economic outlook, many employees in older generations are feeling shaky about retirement,” Bonam said. In 2024, Bonam predicts, “financial wellness will be front and center as employers take a more active role in ensuring their employees are financially prepared to retire.” She pointed to education programs and incentives to help employees ensure that their financial planning is on track.
Offering Post-Retirement Work Opportunities
It may not seem like it on the surface, but work can be a benefit in itself, according to Somen Mondal, general manager of talent intelligence at Ceridian. Mondal believes that in 2024, organizations will expand beyond the traditional workforce of part- or full-time workers to leverage talent from all sources, including alumni workers.
“To quickly adjust to volatile market conditions, more employers will choose a blended workforce model, in which not only contingent talent but also a network of alumni workers—previous employees who have left the organization—will be leveraged to fill needs,” he said. And, he added, much of this can be achieved through artificial intelligence, “which will serve as the ultimate matchmaker between skills, open shifts and available talent."
Learning and Development
Finally, when considering benefits strategies for older workers, don’t make the mistake of thinking they aren’t interested in learning and development offerings. They are, according to industry experts.
“Baby Boomers are eager to acquire new skills,” said Berry, who pointed to an AARP survey that indicated that over 9 in 10 older workers are “interested in developing new professional skills with the support of their employer.”
Mentoring opportunities are also valued, Kleeman said—and these can work both ways, with younger and older workers being paired to learn from each other. “It’s an excellent knowledge exchange.”
In a world where pilots, presidents and a growing contingent of others are working long past what has previously been considered to be “retirement age,” and where many companies continue to be challenged to attract and engage skilled and reliable workers, older workers may represent an untapped talent pool that employers don’t need to go far to find. And benefits may help.
Lin Grensing-Pophal is a freelance writer in Chippewa Falls, Wis.