Earlier this month, motivating employees close to retirement surfaced as one of the most popular topics in the Everwise user community of Learning & Development (L&D) professionals and learners. That’s not surprising–employees approaching the traditional age of retirement of 65 are one of the fastest growing segments of the workforce. Approximately 10,000 Baby Boomers have reached this stage every single day since 2011. And by 2035, the U.S. Census Bureau calculates that number will total 78 million. Just because Baby Boomers are nearing retirement doesn’t mean that they will stop contributing to the workplace in a meaningful way. And any employer wanting a skilled and diverse workforce needs to engage this growing – and valuable – segment.
Recognizing the value of older workers
Many employers view older workers as being less motivated and having less growth potential. They assume younger employees invest more time in developing new skills and are generally more excited about their jobs. Older workers, by contrast, are seen as coasting toward retirement and less interested in exploring new ideas and opportunities. As a result, managers feel it is difficult to encourage and manage older employees. They often overlook the benefits that this segment of the workforce can provide.
If you are hanging on to the notions that more mature workers aren’t energetic, eager and useful, your bias is showing. Older employees come to the table with a wealth of contacts, years of skill development, and a track record of experience that illustrates their strengths. After years of navigating the workplace, they understand how the business works, have important people and office skills, and can be a resource for training other employees.
Engaging older workers
Engaging older workers doesn’t need to be a big challenge or initiative. It turns out older workers are still dedicated to their work. A 2010 study found their performance was more stable and less variable from day to day than that of the 20-somethings. And just like with most of today’s employees, older workers value the ability to develop new skills on the job. AARP’s research shows that more than 80 percent of workers ages 45 to 64 view the opportunity to learn something new as an essential element of their ideal job. That means older workers are still very much open to being engaged by your L&D programs and initiatives, so be sure to include them.
To get the best results without gargantuan effort, remember that just like their younger counterparts, older workers want to find purpose in their work and have fun while doing so. It is not just the young who are positive and excited by their work. An AARP retirement study revealed that nearly 1 in 5 between the ages of 65 and 74 say job enjoyment is the single most important reason they still work.
Schedule some fun with social interactions that appeal to all employees. Start with a Friday team lunch or competition sharing and casually quizzing employees’ knowledge about the company or sector. You may find this offers younger and older employees an opportunity to get to appreciate one another as individuals as well as team players.
Recognizing their contributions – use mentoring!
Older employees can be an invaluable source of information and expertise. Recognize them as the experts they are. If you need to change the way things have been done, bring them into the discussion of the best way to implement those changes. That way they can feel a part of the process rather than being pushed aside or forced to change. You may even save valuable time by learning that an approach you’re considering previously failed, or that an approach succeeded and is worth accelerating this time around.
And pairing older employees with younger employees in a mentoring relationship will not only help the older employee feel appreciated but also help transfer knowledge more effectively. There’s no denying that mentoring is an effective way to develop and retain talent. Mentors can help motivate and inspire employees. Mentors provide an essential and experienced sounding board as well as ongoing encouragement and advice. Helping older employees find a larger purpose through mentoring may help them become more engaged and productive as well.
Make it clear that your organization is one where employees can stay, develop skills and achieve their full potential over the long haul. Show appreciation for those employees that have remained committed to a company. Celebrate their efforts at significant milestones. Make every retirement party count as an opportunity to motivate those who are staying and make a statement about the company culture.
Engaging older employees, particularly in a mentoring program paired with younger workers, can help companies differentiate as they look to attract and retain the best employees, increase engagement and performance, and build a learning culture. More mature workers are a treasure trove of resources, experience, and advice. They can help younger talent grow and develop within the company, setting the stage for a more inclusive culture where talent at all levels and ages can thrive.