Laurel McDowell’s retirement didn’t last long. In 2019, two months after she had ended her 27-year tenure with the staffing company ManpowerGroup, the 66-year-old was back working there again.
But there were a few key differences the second time around. McDowell now works remotely and just part time as the head of the Milwaukee-based company’s new initiative to match older adults to work opportunities, a role that particularly resonated with her.
“To continue to benefit from my expertise and labor market perspectives, Manpower found a way to keep me in a position that was relevant to me, interested me, and met my needs and preferences at this stage of my life,” says McDowell, project coordinator for the Mature Worker Program at ManpowerGroup, an organization with more than 28,000 employees.
Companies asking retired employees to return—or asking older workers to slow down their retirement—isn’t unheard of, and such trends are only likely to accelerate. Why?
Many employers are waking up to a stark reality: The workforce is rapidly aging and the labor force is shrinking, but the number of jobs is only growing. In fact, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) expects 8.3 million more jobs to be added to the economy between 2021 and 2031.
With not enough new workers to replace those who are leaving, employers are taking a more serious look at retaining and attracting older workers.
While company recruiting efforts typically don’t focus much on this demographic, in 2022, 3 in 5 employers said they gave a “great deal” or “quite a bit” of consideration to recruiting candidates ages 50 and older, a 2023 Transamerica Institute report found.
“In today’s age of qualified worker shortages, companies will need to look to the mature job seeker pool to solve their labor needs to survive and thrive for now and into the future,” McDowell says.
Filling Workforce Gaps
Quite simply, people are retiring faster than new workers are entering the workforce to replace them. The aging of the Baby Boomers would have been felt even more acutely by now, except that people are working longer than they once did. Today, 41 percent of Americans expect to work past age 65, a Bain & Company study found. Thirty years ago, just 12 percent did.
But employers can’t escape this staggering truth: By 2030, a whopping 150 million jobs globally will have shifted to workers over 55, according to Bain. That’s a large part of why many companies are devising solutions to solve workforce gaps, including focusing on retaining or hiring older workers. For example, more than 1,000 household-name companies, including Microsoft, Humana and McDonald’s, recently signed on to AARP’s Employer Pledge, which includes a promise to recruit and consider job candidates regardless of age, and ensure that older adults “have a level playing field.”
Companies aren’t just concerned with how many people are leaving the workforce, but also with who is leaving and the impact such knowledge loss has on the workplace, says Michael Kellar, senior vice president and head of talent at Lincoln Financial Group, a financial services company with more than 11,000 employees headquartered in Radnor, Pa.
“It’s the level of experience that’s leaving,” Kellar says. “The people leaving tend to be on the higher end of the leadership teams.”
When experienced leaders retire all at once, it can leave the generation behind them unprepared to fill their roles. That’s why some companies are focused on “attracting and retaining seasoned talent to have them mentor less-tenured employees, sharing their technical knowledge and well-honed soft skills,” McDowell says.
That knowledge can be as complex as helping an organization weather a pandemic or as simple as getting tasks done more efficiently, says Michael Monahan, a Melville, N.Y.-based managing principal at Grant Thornton, a tax services firm with about 9,000 employees in the U.S.
“I can prepare a report and get an analysis done for a client in 15 minutes that a younger colleague might need to take three hours to do, because I’ve been doing it for so long,” Monahan says. “It’s important that they learn how to do it from me so that when they get to be my age, they can do it in 15 minutes and teach somebody else how to do it.”
Preserving the knowledge that comes from experienced leaders is why Grant Thornton has developed a creative workaround to the company requirement that all partners retire by age 62. Rather than risk losing that collective body of experience, the company has launched specific programs to keep retired partners involved as mentors.
“We give them executive coach training that we pay for, and then we ask them if they’d be willing to come back and serve as mentors and coaches for our younger professionals after they’ve retired,” Monahan explains. “For them, and us, it’s a win. They still want to be retired, they’re OK being retired, but they’d love to stay connected by helping mentor great young professionals, and so we give them that chance.”
Some companies are also discovering that older workers can boost the bottom line in unexpected ways.
That’s the case at Assurance IQ, a Seattle-based subsidiary of Prudential Financial that provides health, life, home and car insurance.
Many of the company’s 2,500-plus insurance agents are over 50, a bonus in the eyes of the company’s customers, Chief People Officer Gulliver Swenson says.
“We sell Medicare Advantage products, for example, and our customers often prefer to talk to someone they can relate to, whether that be someone in a similar life stage or located in their geographic region,” Swenson says. “It’s also important that we have insight from multiple generations when designing our customer experience.”
What Older Workers Want
By 2030, roughly 40 percent of adults 65 to 69 are expected to still be working, according to the BLS. That’s up from 33 percent in 2020. This means there will be more older employees at workplaces in the near future, and their specific needs should be on employers’ minds.
Fortunately, the keys to keeping older workers happy and engaged are not all that different than those for workers of any age, Swenson says.
But there are certain qualities regarding work and the workplace that older workers consider more important:
Meaningful work. Before age 60, compensation is the top motivator for workers of any age, Bain research shows. But around 60, another motivator takes that top spot: the desire to do interesting, fulfilling work. For some older employees, that means the chance to master their craft, create a positive social impact or mentor younger workers.
“What we’ve found is that older employees want to feel valued and they want to continue to contribute—to mentor, coach and be proper stewards,” Monahan says. In fact, 90 percent of workers 40 and older said they would only accept a job that provides meaningful work, an AARP study found.
Flexibility. Older workers want work schedule flexibility, which is why many “prefer to work remotely or at least in hybrid roles,” McDowell says, especially since some may be caring for aging parents or have their own health concerns. Companies are responding by offering a host of options, such as:
- Reduced hours.
- Flexible work hours.
- Remote work.
- Job sharing.
- Phased retirement.
At Lincoln Financial Group, flexible remote work has become a selling point for attracting and retaining employees.
“Not having to deal with traffic but having a job and a chance to be productive and be a part of a team is very, very attractive to folks,” Kellar says.
At Assurance IQ, Swenson cites one agent who solely works with the company during the Medicare annual enrollment period.
“His skills and experience are incredibly valuable during one of the busiest times of the year,” Swenson says. “It’s a win for us both—he has the opportunity to earn extra money and help people while only working for part of the year. This is increasingly a choice for many retirees in the U.S. who want to continue earning money in retirement, but also have more time to spend with family or on their hobbies.”
Training. Think older employees aren’t interested in training and development opportunities? Think again. In fact, one of the biggest mistakes employers make is giving older workers short shrift when it comes to training, McDowell says.
“Seasoned employees still have a desire to do interesting, challenging work and to advance in their duties and roles,” she says. Yet older workers are offered less training than younger ones, Bain’s research shows.
In today’s age of qualified worker shortages, companies will need to look to the mature job seeker pool to solve their labor needs to survive and thrive for now into the future.
At Assurance IQ, all employees receive training throughout their careers, including coaching with their sales managers and opportunities to learn new skills or advance to sales management positions.
“Leaders need to shift away from assumptions that employees’ abilities are fixed, and embrace the opportunity to teach everyone new skills,” Swenson says.
Recently, Assurance IQ introduced a feature in its agent technology platform that allows agents of any experience level to proactively request one-to-one coaching. The company also launched a program where agents who have experience selling only one type of insurance can receive training on how to sell another type.
“Research has shown that the opportunity to learn on the job is a major factor in employee recruitment and retention, and we invest accordingly,” Swenson says.
Targeted benefits. Quality health insurance, retirement savings plans, generous paid time off and paid caregiving leave are benefits that are especially appealing to older workers, a 2023 AARP survey found.
Older workers who have Medicare are also often “keenly interested in robust vision, dental and auditory benefits offerings from their employer,” McDowell adds.
Access to free financial planning resources and health and wellness programs is appealing too, she says. More recently, McDowell has noticed some companies offering an interesting perk aimed at older workers: paid leave for the birth of a grandchild.
Finding Older Workers
In the past, the alumni network at Grant Thornton was a fairly exclusive group, Monahan says. It was limited to former employees who left on very specific terms, such as going to work for noncompetitors. But that has changed.
“We lifted all that,” Monahan says. “Now we’re keeping relationships with a lot of people who have left Grant Thornton, whether they were here for six months or 30 years. Unless they were fired for cause, that might be the only reason we don’t reach out to them.”
The company hosts alumni network receptions and has an active alumni social media presence, all of which gives Grant Thornton a pipeline to tap for job applicant referrals as well as prospective candidates.
Lincoln Financial Group, meanwhile, has officially launched an effort to attract former employees back to the organization, known as the Comeback Campaign. As a result, it has also wooed several former employees out of retirement, Kellar says.
“Where we’ve seen that be especially helpful is in our customer service roles,” Kellar says. “So people who worked in claims or the call centers who had retired have come back into the organization, either part time or full time. They make an immediate impact because they know the systems, they know the products, they know the customers, they know the culture of the company. The ramp-up is very quick.”
Social media platforms, professional associations and job boards that specifically reach older candidates—such as those offered by AARP and the American Society on Aging—can also be helpful places to connect with more seasoned workers or retirees who are contemplating either remaining in or jumping back into the working world.
“There are many advantages to hiring mature talent,” McDowell says.
Older workers “come with proven skills, need less training and can be productive right away,” she adds. “They’re creative and can offer different perspectives because of life lived. And no one disputes the dedication, reliability and loyalty they bring.”
Kate Rockwood is a freelance writer based in Chicago.