Employers in the U.S. are desperate to find and retain reliable workers in an increasingly unsteady economy. In doing so, many HR professionals have focused on recruiting younger workers, who are perceived as technologically proficient.
"But there is a huge population of workers we are completely overlooking," said Dethra Giles, CEO at consulting firm ExecuPrep in Atlanta. "And that is the Baby Boomer generation."
Giles, an author and executive coach, outlined the importance of hiring older workers, their value to organizations and what they want from employers during her session at the SHRM Talent Conference & Expo 2023 in Orlando, Fla., on April 17.
She began the session by explaining how Baby Boomers are the most educated generation, with 2 in 3 holding a college degree. They are also twice as likely as Millennials to start a business, exemplifying an entrepreneurial spirit.
Yet many companies fail to recognize these characteristics, Giles said. She recalled a conversation she recently had with a CEO older than 65 who admitted that recruiting Baby Boomers wasn't a priority at his company.
When she asked what he planned to do upon his retirement, he told her that he planned to sit on a board of directors.
"I asked him why [he wanted to continue working], and he said because he has a lot left to give," Giles said. "I asked him, 'What makes you think you're the only person over 65 that can do that?' He said, 'I never thought about it that way.' "
Misconceptions of Baby Boomers
Giles detailed the misconception that Boomers are "feeble and sick" and lack the technological skills needed to excel in today's workplace. In reality, many older people are still living vibrant lives well into retirement and remain eager to learn and contribute to the workplace.
People ages 65-72 are staying in the labor force at rates not previously seen for their age group, according to research by Pew Research Center. Further reports show that the labor force participation rate of people ages 70 and older sits at about 9 percent and is expected to rise to about 16 percent in 2035.
"We need to change our image of what retirees look like," Giles said.
While many Boomers have a lot left to give, some employers have continued to discriminate against older workers. In March, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) sued a manufacturing and distribution company based in Ponchatoula, La., for allegedly firing an employee because of her age after she refused to retire when she turned 65 years old.
A 2021 survey by AARP revealed that nearly 80 percent of older workers say they've seen or experienced age discrimination in the workplace. That is the highest share since the organization began surveying on the topic in 2003.
Peter Theis, a trial attorney for the EEOC New Orleans Field Office, said in a statement that "harmful and misplaced stereotypes about age do not belong in the workplace, and employers that discriminate against older workers violate the law."
Retirees Willing to Return to Work
Warren Buffett, who is 92, is still regarded as one of the most brilliant CEOs in the world of finance. Charlie Munger, his right-hand man, is 99. Some of the most active figures in Hollywood, including Robert DeNiro, Meryl Streep and Samuel L. Jackson, are older than 65.
And research shows that knowledge and expertise—the main predictors of job performance—continue to increase even beyond the age of 80.
"[Older workers] are physically well, mentally well and still more than capable to contribute to the workforce," Giles added. "The majority of CEOs are Baby Boomers."
However, only 20 percent of retirees say their previous employer has reached out to ask them to return due to the U.S. labor shortage, according to ResumeBuilder.com. Many retired workers said they'd consider returning to their previous employer—though some expressed interest in switching industries should they return to work.
Giles outlined what Boomers typically want from an employer:
- Part-time and remote-work options.
- Benefits that include gym membership and wellness programs.
- A compressed, flexible work schedule.
"If you are not ready to embrace flexible work, you are not stepping into the future of work," Giles added.
She implored companies to strongly consider reaching out to recently retired workers to see if they'd like to come back.
"They already know the lay of the land, drive down your recruitment costs and you already have their phone number," she said. "Baby Boomers are not doing crossword puzzles [or] watching TV all day. They are still innovative, and they still want to work."