Gap Remains Between Employers and Employees View of Retirement

May 18, 2006 ( - Many of the Boomers on the cusp of retirement plan to continue working in some capacity well after the traditional retirement age, and while some employers have considered how to absorb an older workforce some have barely thought about what this demographic shift will mean, according to a recent report.

“If the Boomers want to work, are there going to be employers there to employ us?” asked Cynthia Hayes, First Vice President, Employer Plan Solutions Retirement Group at Merrill Lynch, at a conference on Thursday.

At the conference, Merrill Lynch unveiled its second “New Retirement Study,” which found that 71% of individuals say they want to work during their retirement. Nearly half those that plan to work after retirement do not intend to stop working completely. However two-thirds want to move to a completely different line of work.

The 2005 Merrill Lynch New Retirement Survey found that 76% of all baby boomers had no intention of seeking a “traditional” retirement (See Study: 76% of Boomers Plan to Work and Earn in Retirement ).

Two-thirds of employees in this year’s survey say they want to work in retirement on their own schedule and in a different line of work, which poses difficulty among employers trying to retain older workers after retirement, no matter what kind of benefits they offer, the study found.

Among those who expect to work in retirement and eventually stop, the average longevity of their “retirement career” is over nine years and the average age at which they stop working completely is over 70. The study proposes a new type of retirement that employers need to be ready for, where individuals meander in and out of work, instead of abandoning work altogether.

However, only one in four employers says that they are on track with preparing for the Boomer outflow from the workforce and almost one-third (31%) say they have not thought much about it.

Older Worker Recruitment

Employers who have taken steps to prepare for future labor shortages focus on recruitment, but tend to focus on younger workers, not recruitment and retention of older, skilled workers. When asked which of the following issues they consider to be very serious concerns, the top five concerns were the following:

  • 65% say the rising cost of benefits
  • 24% say retaining skilled labor
  • 23% say recruiting, training, and retaining younger workers
  • 20% say labor shortages in general
  • 20% say retaining highly qualified executives and senior managers.

Only 7% consider retaining older employees a serious problem. Even though more pressing issues stand in front of retaining older workers, the survey found that some companies have already started to figure out ways to try to keep them.

“By permitting telecommuting and more flexible schedules, providing coaching and mentoring services, as well as offering increased access to health insurance, these companies have demonstrated that they are already thinking about the new approaches they can take to leverage a very valuable workforce segment that still has the desire to work,” Hayes said, in a news release.

Hayes also suggested at the conference that employers could consider giving older workers new assignments, but warned that in order to avoid the threat of age discrimination litigation, employers have to find the right dialogue to address it.

Dan Smith, a plan sponsor with Borders Group and a panelist at the conference, said his bookstore company is trying more aggresively to recruit older workers than younger workers. “Older workers are not more expensive for us,” he said, adding that older workers often want to work part time, which is less costly than a full time worker who would require benefits.

The survey of individuals included phone interviews of 5,111 adults and the employer survey included more than 1,000 US companies with more than 100 employees.

To get a full copy of the survey go here .