With a tight job market and a drain on experience, baby boomers can help employers fill out the winning workplace card.

By Tanya Axenson

I

t’s no secret that the retirement of baby boomers is contributing to a shortage of workers.

Recent reports show that the United States is predicted to see a 38 percent increase in the over-65 population between 2015 and 2025, while the U.S. population of those between ages 18 and 64 is only expected to rise by 3 percent. Baby boomers are estimated to comprise 15 percent of the total global population, according to a resource on website employmentcounselor.net.

Around the world, employers are trying to retain these tenured resources with creative incentives. Some countries are increasing wages, and others are increasing retirement ages.

At the same time, companies are finding that the work styles of baby boomers are changing. After long careers spent largely working as traditional, full-time employees, many in this generation are shying away from retirement and are instead looking for smaller, more flexible work as contractors or consultants. In a tight labor market, this shift can be a significant opportunity for employers desiring the deep level of subject matter expertise, hard and soft skills, and management experience that boomers carry.

Boomers’ preference to continue working can be a big win for any company. To keep this generation in the workforce, however, companies will have to embrace several basic approaches to improve worker engagement. These approaches include creating flexible schedules and engagement models, partnering with senior workers in their career progression, and empowering senior workers with technology.

With a tight job market and a drain on experience, baby boomers can help employers fill out the winning workplace card.

By Tanya Axenson

I

t’s no secret that the retirement of baby boomers is contributing to a shortage of workers.

Recent reports show that the United States is predicted to see a 38 percent increase in the over-65 population between 2015 and 2025, while the U.S. population of those between ages 18 and 64 is only expected to rise by 3 percent. Baby boomers are estimated to comprise 15 percent of the total global population, according to a resource on website employmentcounselor.net.

Around the world, employers are trying to retain these tenured resources with creative incentives. Some countries are increasing wages, and others are increasing retirement ages.

At the same time, companies are finding that the work styles of baby boomers are changing. After long careers spent largely working as traditional, full-time employees, many in this generation are shying away from retirement and are instead looking for smaller, more flexible work as contractors or consultants. In a tight labor market, this shift can be a significant opportunity for employers desiring the deep level of subject matter expertise, hard and soft skills, and management experience that boomers carry.

Boomers’ preference to continue working can be a big win for any company. To keep this generation in the workforce, however, companies will have to embrace several basic approaches to improve worker engagement. These approaches include creating flexible schedules and engagement models, partnering with senior workers in their career progression, and empowering senior workers with technology.

Embrace Flexibility

As baby boomers find their own balance between easing into retirement and staying productive, employers can aid the transition by providing flexible work options and alternative engagement models. For example, consider the sales executive who looks forward to cutting the hourlong commute from her morning or evening schedule.

For the employee, retirement may be a big, drastic step, but the personal and lifestyle benefits of removing the commute, even if just a few days per week, outweigh the anxieties of not working. By engaging that worker in meaningful dialogue around her real needs and proactively offering remote work as an option, the employer can dramatically alter the equation, often resulting in the employee staying on board for several valuable years. Similarly, flexibility in scheduling may include four-day weeks or alternative hours.

Along with schedule adjustments, an open mind about engagement models is also an advantage. Talent may come in the form of consultants or contractors, allowing a more flexible engagement model.

Hiring managers need to become comfortable in looking at both traditional employees and flexible workers when considering talent needs. That level of comfort requires an environment that enables the employer to quickly and easily identify and access all available talent, including permanent employment candidates and contractors alike.

Become a Career Partner

When employing baby boomers, it is critical to partner with them in their career progression and understand what they want from the position, as well as their overall career goals. For example, they may be interested in expanding their skills.

When employing baby boomers, it is critical to understand what they want from the position, as well as their overall career goals.

From technology to processes and new fields of expertise, workers of all generations value learning, and employers would do well to meet their needs with appropriate resources and learning programs. Likewise, visibility into job openings across the company is also valuable to pre-retirement workers. What the boomers desire in development (or increased flexibility) may come simply in the form of a role in a different department or functional group.

Along with traditional training opportunities and job visibility, boomers can benefit greatly from the give and take of knowledge transfer among workers in the organization. Mentorships are an obvious option for knowledge sharing from pre-retirement workers to those of other generations. Less obvious, but just as important, are reverse mentorship arrangements that give pre-retirement workers a chance to learn from younger generations.

Provide Up-to-Date Technology

Employers wishing to continue working with highly skilled baby boomers should not only provide them with workplace flexibility but also enable them to do that work with easy and transparent digital interactions. While baby boomers may have lived a substantial portion of their lives before the rise of digital communication, they also have grown accustomed to the consumer experience of using applications for everything from shopping on their phone to using Facetime to connect with distant family members.

Unconscious Bias Cuts Across Generational Workplace Lines

Every generation in the workforce may experience some level of bias in their careers.

That bias gives rise to many issues faced by employers today, such as the gender pay gap, and too few women and minorities in leadership. Unfortunately, baby boomers may find themselves being excluded through many types of bias, conscious or otherwise. For example, companies may rely heavily on campus recruiting to fill certain positions, automatically excluding older workers.

Alternatively, job descriptions may skew toward “entry level,” cutting off interested, older workers who may be considered overqualified. Through focused, diversity and inclusion strategies in talent acquisition and workforce management, companies can do a better job of engaging the boomer workforce.

The key is to focus on improving the inclusion across all generations. Apprenticeships can be available to workers of all ages.

Similarly, mentoring across generations helps drive knowledge sharing. Programs to bring workers back into professional life after extended absences are also highly effective in connecting companies to the older workforce.

Finally, education and creating awareness about generational differences can advance collaboration among workers.

— Tanya Axenson

In the workplace, baby boomers can benefit from the same level of technology enablement. For example, the use of cloud-based technologies for collaboration should make workflow, documentation, feedback, and approvals on projects transparent and accessible any time, any place.

Likewise, telecommuting tools like videoconferencing are no longer new, but many organizations have not fully adopted the concept in their core business. As more boomers opt to avoid or reduce the number of days spent commuting to onsite locations, use of these tools will become more widely accepted as part of corporate cultures and more widely sought after by generations approaching retirement.

Make Workplace Accessibility a Priority

Regardless of age, employees need to believe that their employer is committed to their well-being, and removing barriers to access is an important part of that commitment.

For workers with disabilities, an employer’s commitment to improving employees’ ability to utilize physical and virtual resources can be instrumental to a positive work experience. Considering that the percentage of the U.S. population with a disability jumps from 10.6 percent for those between 18 and 64 to more than 35 percent for those over 65, according to research by the University of New Hampshire, the importance of access and accommodation for baby boomers is clear.

The most obvious example of accessibility is the corporate website. Captions with audio and video, along with visual options such as larger formats and contrasting color schemes, can help to ensure that the employer does not place unnecessary barriers to work and interaction for employees.

Many organizations can help companies assess their accessibility and provide paths for improvement. At the same time, employers should consider that accessibility often leads to a better experience for everyone and not just workers with disabilities.

Evolving Talent Acquisition for a Changing Workforce

As baby boomers embrace flexible work options, employers need to position themselves to accommodate those work styles.

The good news is that companies are already adjusting to flexible work due to the growth in self-employed contract workers and freelancers. With that in mind, three key priorities can help employers become more competitive in securing flexible workers — especially baby boomers.

1. Sharpen visibility into the workforce supply and demand.

New technologies enable employers to bring together data on talent demand and the total available supply. That data can come from multiple sources and when used in the right context, it can help support informed decisions about everything from how much to pay for talent to the best work model for a role, whether for a traditional employee, contractor, or another worker type. Such visibility can help companies find the available baby boomer talent they may have overlooked in the traditional recruiting process.

2. Streamline requirements to attract more talent with the skills you need most.

Clarify the goals of the job and streamline requirements. For boomers, consider whether on-site attendance is needed every day or whether the narrow definitions of skills and experience are all essential. For example, a retirement-age worker may want to apply her transferable skills in a different role than she held previously. Often, the only barrier to a productive relationship is a lengthy set of irrelevant job requirements.

3. Create a process to consider multiple work models.

Adopt a clear and consistent set of criteria to assess the ideal work model for the talent need, whether that includes an employee or flexible worker. The strategic importance of a skill, the length of need, and the availability of talent are all factors in the decision. A consistent approach to assessing such needs can help companies better position themselves to gain the most value from their employees of all ages.

— Tanya Axenson
Engaging Talent of All Ages

Organizations will continue to compete for valuable baby boomer talent. The competition may come from different employers, or it may come in the form of competing life choices, from full retirement to relocation. In all cases, core principles that drive great talent engagement will make the difference between employers that successfully engage baby boomers and those that miss out on the opportunity these workers present.

These commitments — being flexible, empowering their careers, and providing the right tools and technology to get work done — are more than strategies for recruiting senior workers. They are basic paths for any company to become a better employer to the people it hires and aims to retain, whatever their age and experience group. When it comes to attracting and retaining talent of any age, what’s good for people is good for business.

Keep Looking Ahead

Companies face persistent challenges in attracting, finding and retaining critical talent. They are struggling to get work done in a market where demographics are shifting, and the technology is constantly evolving.

When positioning a talent acquisition strategy to better engage the workforce, regardless of generation, an open mind for change is essential. A new solution may supplant the technology that works today for virtual work.

The model that engages pre-retirement professionals as consultants may evolve as part of a total talent approach. Amid such conditions, the leaders, today and in the future, will be the employers that continually question how work gets done, who needs to do it, and how they will go about securing that talent.


Tanya Axenson is the global head of human resources for the Allegis Group. To comment, email editors@workforce.com.