Why Older Workers Are Now In Demand

It’s no surprise to the leaders of St. Luke’s Health System that an increasing number of its 15,000 employees throughout southern Idaho are approaching retirement. Like many employers, the health system monitors its changing workforce demographics. The question now is how to prevent all that experience and knowledge from walking out the door.

“We love to retain as much institutional knowledge as possible,” says Sarah Sorgi, senior director of talent management at the organization in Boise, Idaho. “The one thing we do really well is we’re open and flexible with any employee who would like to return or stay.”

Based on business needs, the health system provides part-time positions and other job opportunities, mostly for older clinical workers. Take nurses, for example. As they get older, some want to stay but are no longer able to work night shifts, for example, or perform physically demanding tasks. So they may be transferred to other areas like the education department, where they train other nurses.

Companies nationwide are preparing for a mass exodus of retiring employees. Roughly 10,000 baby boomers retire each day, according to recent statistics. Combine that with the skills shortage and Department of Labor research revealing that employers couldn’t find enough talent in 2017 to fill approximately 6 million open jobs, and you’ve got a perfect talent storm. Some organizations are navigating these choppy waters by offering flexible employment options and new career paths for older workers.

In the future, Sorgi says, she would “love” to formalize a returnship program. Until then, the company will continue offering informal opportunities. She points to someone on her own team, an organizational development professional and subject matter expert in leadership development. Before retiring, she created content for a class and plans on returning as the trainer for that course.

Likewise, roughly 19 percent of the 246,000 employees at CVS Health is over the age of 50, says David Casey, vice president of workforce strategies and chief diversity officer at the retail pharmacy and healthcare company.

For years, the company has supported Talent Is Ageless, a mature-workers program that recruits and retains workers who are at least 50 years old for full- and part-time jobs. They can take advantage of flextime, professional development, telecommuting, job sharing and compressed workweeks.

“Hiring mature workers makes good business sense for our company,” says Casey. “These colleagues are highly valued, both because of their skills and experience, but also because they are members of our fastest-growing customer base.”

Adapt or Struggle

Last June, the nonprofit organization Transamerica Center for Retirement Studies released results of its multi-year study on retirement readiness. The majority of workers surveyed (56 percent) plans to continue working in retirement–14 percent want full-time work, while 42 percent will seek part-time positions.

That’s good news for employers with an older workforce, says Jacquelyn James, co-director at the Sloan Research Network on Aging & Work at Boston College.

Despite the benefits of employing older workers–they strengthen diversity and demonstrate loyalty, a strong work ethic and emotional resilience–some employers still resist retaining them.

“Most employers have statements about workplace flexibility in their HR policies and programs,” James says. “But a lot of employees don’t know anything about them and don’t feel free to use them unless their supervisor actively encourages them to, enforces the policy, and makes it possible for them to feel that they can show commitment and engagement with their work while also making use of flexible-work arrangements.”

Some companies have developed senior corps or hire retirees for short-term projects or cross-mentoring programs, in which older workers transfer their knowledge to younger employees, she adds.

Although more HR professionals have gained a better understanding of this issue, recruiting older workers can still be a hard sell when senior executives only care about the bottom line, says James.

However, one new program addresses both ends of this HR challenge.

The Tolan Group, a national healthcare-recruiting firm in St. Augustine, Fla., is working with a behavioral-health organization that expects 500 of its 4,000 employees to retire by 2020. The company offers a pension, which, according to the company’s bylaws, can’t be collected if employees continue working past retirement age.

“They’ll get their pension and come to work for us and we’ll put them back in the same chair and do all the same payroll,” explains Timothy Tolan, the firm’s CEO and managing partner. “The first five are being enrolled . . . We’re paying for half of their healthcare and giving them a 401(k) and personal time off based on the number of hours worked.”

This fall, the firm is also launching Interim Search Partners, which will place retirees, such as social workers and occupational, physical or speech therapists, in temporary positions at behavioral-health or substance-abuse centers nationwide.

“The blended workforce is here to stay,” says Tolan. “Most [employers] are putting their head in the sand. People really need to adopt this blended-workforce model or they’re going to be in trouble.”

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Carol Patton
Carol Patton is a contributing editor for HRE who also writes HR articles and columns for business and education magazines. She can be reached at hreletters@lrp.com.