Did you know that the last full week of September is National Employ Older Workers Week by the U.S. Department of Labor?
The week serves as an opportunity to acknowledge the invaluable contributions of older workers to the workforce and to develop innovative strategies for leveraging their skills and experience.
Each year, this event revolves around a theme, and the current theme, “Possibilities are Ageless,” explores the diverse experiences of aging and how older workers and employers can challenge common stereotypes. The goal is to encourage flexible thinking about aging, emphasizing the benefits that come from keeping older adults “engaged, independent, and included.”
It’s commendable that we are having this conversation, but one might wonder why the dialogue took so long to arrive. In fact, as far back as 2014, a Transamerica Center for Retirement study found that two-thirds of baby boomers planned to work beyond age 65 or not retire at all.
However, realizing this plan is increasingly challenging for older workers, given economic fluctuations and the subsequent rise in ageism.
Additionally, an Employee Benefit Research Institute report on the retirement preparedness of older workers revealed that nearly 60 percent of workers aged 55 and older had saved less than $100,000 for retirement, with another 24 percent having saved less than $1,000. This situation raises concerns about an increasing number of traditional retirement-age workers who face the fear of running out of money, which ultimately impacts us all.
While many older individuals cite financial necessity as their reason for continuing to work, there is also a growing trend of people approaching 65 who, for non-financial reasons, are not ready to retire. They choose to remain active, either full-time, part-time or in other productive ways.
Interestingly, all of these issues are converging at a time when businesses, industries, and communities must rethink their perceptions of age, work, consumers, and the economy. According to The National Older Worker Career Center, many public and private employers are facing the loss of experience as those who choose to retire do so.
To put these changes into perspective, consider the numbers: according to the PEW Research Center, approximately 10,000 people turn 65 every day. This number is expected to peak at 4.3 million annually by 2025. This demographic shift includes the 78 million baby boomers born between 1946 and 1964 and a growing number of elders who are living longer. Those aged 85 and above are now the fastest-growing age group.
For some, this is a cause for alarm, while others view it as part of a revolutionary shift in which longevity benefits fuel the economy. As evidence, they point to the staggering $7.1 trillion spent annually in the U.S. by people aged 50 and over on services and consumable products. This longevity revolution is creating a wide range of opportunities for investors, companies, small business owners, and budding entrepreneurs who are ready to embrace it.
However, the positive implications of longevity and what it means to grow old have been slow to take hold, both within and outside our homes. Many civic and community leaders, like the individuals and families they serve, tend to view aging as something that happens to other people rather than as a transition to embrace. This perspective persists despite assertions from many in the financial and retirement fields who see older adults as contributors to economic growth, working longer, buying more goods, and propelling economic growth in their communities.
Businesses that fail to acknowledge this reality face a double-edged sword. Some lack the knowledge to capitalize on economic opportunities tied to serving older clientele. Others with long-time employees ready to leave the workforce find themselves unprepared to replace or retain the knowledge, contacts, and problem-solving experience that veteran employees bring.
Forward-thinking employers are implementing various workplace practices to retain older workers, including flexible and shared work arrangements, part-time and part-year schedules, remote and off-site access, and results-oriented work environments.
This approach makes sense, as older workers often receive high marks for leadership, stability, problem-solving skills, loyalty, and reliability. They also serve as mentors to younger workers and better understand a company’s aging customer base. Hiring or retaining older workers promotes employee retention, increases productivity, and, most importantly, makes good business sense. It’s no wonder that the U.S. Department of Labor has established National Employ Older Workers Week.
Let’s keep this conversation alive while we put even older workers back into the workforce!