3 ways to make your company friendly to older workers

Workplace flexibility is important for all generations.

3 ways to make your company friendly to older workers

A recent study by the Society for Human Resource Management found that even as employee populations are aging, employers aren’t doing much to retain or recruit older workers. In addition, about a third of employers said their organizations hadn’t taken any steps to prepare for potential skills gaps as older employees retire.

This clashes with the study’s finding that HR professionals believe employing older workers brings advantages: More than three-quarters said older employees have more work experience, and around 70 percent said they are more professional and have a stronger work ethic. If employers find older employees so valuable, why aren’t they doing more to retain them?

Older employees also want flexibility and opportunities

For employers that said it was “difficult” or “very difficult” to retain older workers, the main roadblock they cited was flexibility. This included an inability to offer workplace flexibility (such as working from home), career flexibility (reduced responsibilities or job change) and workday flexibility (reduced hours or job sharing).

As employers focus on recruiting and retaining millennials, it’s important to remember they aren’t the only ones who value workplace flexibility. Flexible arrangements appeal to employees of all generations, and the SHRM report pointed out that many of the steps companies are taking to prepare for an aging workforce will appeal to all employees. Other possibilities include increasing training efforts, being flexible about employees taking on new roles and advancing, and mentoring opportunities.

“Retaining the older, experienced employee should be a high priority for organizations, especially since people are wanting to work longer due to better health and financial reasons, and there is not enough talent in the pipeline to replace the large numbers of those departing,” says Stan Kimer, president of Total Engagement Consulting. Flexible job arrangements, mentoring opportunities and respect can go a long way toward helping employers retain older employees.

Offer support and accommodation

Flexibility should include accommodation as well, says Barbra Otto, principal of Think Beyond the Label. “Companies should invest in innovative and useful technology that helps their older working population. This includes large computer monitors for those with vision loss, amplified phones for hearing loss, ergonomic desks and chairs for those with arthritis.” Employers that are proactive about providing a supportive work environment will be able to keep workers longer.

Provide a means for them to share their expertise

Whether it’s through a mentoring program or simply a data repository, find ways for older workers to share their knowledge, says Marcia Conner, executive advisor and co-author of The New Social Learning. She says she worked with a company that instituted a dedicated website for older employees to share their knowledge. The IT team thought they wouldn’t participate, but they were wrong.

“One man, who was an expert in his field said, ‘I've been waiting my whole career to be able to showcase the photos I've taken on the job and pass on to younger employees all I've learned.’ A woman opened up a draw in her desk crammed with papers she'd been saving, in the hopes someday someone would give her a way to share these lessons with her colleagues.”