How to Engage Older Employees in a Multigenerational Workforce

One of the fastest growing demographics in the workforce might surprise you. By 2024, there will be 41 million workers over the age of 55, and 13 million will be 65 or older, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. [1]

While retirement may be on the horizon for some, others may continue to work to help supplement their retirement income or because they find a sense of meaning in the work they provide.

Not all workers in this demographic are looking to start winding down their careers. Some are reinventing themselves in new roles, some are reskilling to take on new responsibilities, and others are looking to balance meaningful work and time with family. Their goals could also include continuing to build or supplement their retirement savings.

Older employees bring decades of experience to your multigenerational workforce and keeping them engaged is critical to your employee engagement strategies. For example, older executives often bring “crystalized intelligence” or knowledge acquired from experience to their roles, according to a study published by the American Psychological Association. [2]

Here are ways your organization can provide a meaningful employee experience for older employees.

Incorporate age diversity into your hiring and D&I strategies

If your organization currently has diversity and inclusion initiatives in place or is in the process of developing a program, make sure that it encourages age diversity. This includes actively seeking older candidates for roles, allowing employees to create flexible work schedules that can accommodate caretaking responsibilities and creating collaborative, multigenerational teams.

When your organization is hiring, encourage recruiters to reach out to older candidates and ensure your job descriptions are written in straight-forward, everyday language [3] that doesn’t use slang or company-speak. This may make older candidates feel that they aren’t the right fit for a role. Also be very clear in outlining must-have requirements and nice-to-have skills, so that candidates can quickly determine if they are qualified for a particular position.

If your organization doesn’t yet have a policy around flexible schedules, it may be a company-wide benefit that’s worth implementing. According to a 2018 SHRM survey, employees often seek out flexible schedules for work/life balance (75 percent) and family obligations (45 percent) [4]. Flexible work arrangements not only benefit employees who have young families, but also can help employees who are in other caretaking roles or who need the flexibility to accommodate their own needs. Flexible options include working remotely or setting a modified schedule. Many healthcare organizations are fully embracing older employees who want to continue their careers by offering flexible work options, part-time schedules, job sharing [5] and phased retirement in which employees can work reduced hours but maintain their full benefits package.

Creating a welcoming and inclusive environment that engages all employees should include opportunities to find commonalities with co-workers from multiple generations. This can be accomplished through creating multi-generational working teams that build a collaborative process, forming employee business resource groups (EBRGs) that focus on generational inclusion, or developing multi-generational office committees that can help create events and outings that all employees can enjoy.

Create mentorship opportunities

Older employees can add tremendous value to the workplace through sharing their perspectives and industry experience. Transferring this knowledge to fellow staff members is a necessity in helping organizations maintain a competitive edge. Nearly 77 percent of AARP survey [6] respondents agree that older colleagues provide them with the opportunity to learn new skills.

Mentorship is one of the most effective ways for older employees to transfer an organization’s knowledge to fellow co-workers, which ultimately grooms the next generation for leadership roles. Mentoring programs can also encourage greater diversity within an organization. Mentoring programs at Cornell University’s School of Industrial and Labor Relations [7] found that retention and promotion rates for minorities and women who were mentored increased by 15 percent to 38 percent, respectively.

Recognize older employees for their career’s worth of accomplishments

One of the most profound ways to acknowledge and honor older employees is to not only recognize them for their current responsibilities but to find ways to recognize them for the depth of experience that they bring to your organization.

If an employee has a longer tenure with your organization, celebrating length of service for 15, 20 or 30 years is expected. But consider celebrating and recognizing older employees who have been with your company for shorter timeframes as well. For example, an individual who has been with your organization for 5 years can still be recognized for the tenure of their career. Consider incorporating examples of what they’ve accomplished through the course of their career, in addition to what they’ve achieved while working with your company.

It’s also important to take the time to get to know your employees to better understand how they prefer to be recognized, because often times this ties back to personal preferences more so than generational attributes.

As employees opt to stay in the workforce longer, organizations can find opportunities to create meaningful roles that help older employees flourish while also benefiting their younger co-workers with their industry knowledge and wisdom.

Footnotes

[1] Bureau of Labor Statistics, Older Workers: Labor force trends and career options. 2017.

[2] American Psychological Association, Older workers bring valuable knowledge to the job. 2015.

[3] LinkedIn, 5 Must-do’s for writing inclusive job descriptions. 2018.

[4] SHRM, Flexible work critical to retention, survey finds. 2019.

[5] Forbes, How health care employers are welcoming older workers. 2019.

[6] AARP. Older workers valued for their experience, research shows. 2019.

[7] Forbes. Improving workplace culture with a strong mentoring program. 2019.

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