Older Workers Hanging In There – Despite Employer "Signals"

December 2, 2002 (PLANSPONSOR.com) - Older workers are sticking around - but for the money, not the job - and they don't seem to be getting much employer encouragement to do so, according to a new study.

For years demographic trend lines have pointed to a future in which there would not be enough experienced, trained workers to fill the gap left by the retiring of the Baby Boomers.   Yet the new study by the Conference Board finds that most companies are not actively encouraging their older, more seasoned workers to remain with them.

Mixed Messages

In fact, many of the 1500 older workers (those over age 50) surveyed say that that they are getting the opposite message – with supervisors having denied them developmental opportunities because of their age, although only one-quarter of those surveyed believe that younger employees generally have negative perceptions about keeping mature workers beyond “retirement age.”   And only one in ten survey participants report that they are staying with their employers because a promotion is likely.

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Still, one-third of younger mature workers (those aged 50 to 55) who are planning to retire do not feel respected by their companies – and one in five are looking to make a career change.  

The report also shows that many companies offer older workers severance packages – only to rehire them later as contractors at higher salary levels. Other older workers that are eligible for retirement leave their firms, only to join other organizations.   However, the report finds that fewer than half the “mature” workers have plans to retire within five years.

Money Matters

Perhaps not surprisingly the decision to keep working is strongly based on financial need (68%) or the desire to build up income (64%).

And most are not retiring because of health care concerns, but are in fact holding on to their current job to retain health benefits, keep active, and to continue working in a field that still interests them.

Those planning to retire in five years say they are:

  • primarily interested in pursuing unfulfilled dreams, leisure interests, and/or contributing to society through volunteer activities
  • receptive to remaining with their current employers through part-time or flexible work arrangements

Prior Engagements

The study’s authors note that while no single factor (with the exception of a higher salary) would keep more than half of the survey participants from retiring, employers could do more to encourage continued “engagement” of the workers, including:

  • recognize and fairly compensate mature workers for their contributions
  • provide opportunities to learn as well as to transfer knowledge
  • offer flexible work arrangements and gradual retirement alternatives

The study is based on a survey of 1500 workers whose companies belong to The Conference Board’s “Engaging Mature Workers” Working Group.