Recruiting and Retaining Mature Workers

Adding older workers can make a positive impact on your business.

By Alexandra Walsh

The war for talent is intensifying. After almost nine years of mostly sluggish expansion, the U.S. economy has shifted into a higher gear and creating jobs at a record pace.

Forecasters are highly confident of the coming boom because they’re looking at simple economics. About 6 million jobs are open at U.S. companies, near an all-time high.

Yet employers are filling jobs at the slowest rate in three years, unable to acquire the employees they need as more people find work and stop their search. With growing demand and shrinking supply, employers are finding new sources for recruiting staff.

Some firms are beginning to dip into the pool of older workers to fill positions.

There are now far more Americans ages 65 and older in the workforce than three decades ago. The number of employed older Americans rose by nearly 35% between 2011 and 2016, according to a December 2017 study by SeniorLiving.org.

In fact, workers 65 and older are projected to be the fastest-growing segment in the workforce through 2024.

AARP has studied older-worker employment trends for more than three decades. It found in 1985 Americans age 65 or older made up about 11% of the workforce: older men at 15% and older women at just more than 7% overall. In 2017, this age group in the workforce had grown to 19% with men at roughly 24% and women at roughly 16%.

So, which positions do most older Americans occupy?

The occupations most often held by older Americans have remained relatively the same since 2011, but the number of employees in each field has increased.

Workers 65 and older are projected to be the fastest-growing segment in the workforce through 2024

Management occupations were the top field for older Americans, with about 1.4 million employed in this field in 2016, according to SeniorLiving.org.

The Benefits of Older Workers

Consider the numerous benefits an older employee may provide:

  • They are a steady and reliable source of skilled labor.
  • They may offer decades of relevant experience, and if they have health insurance coverage, may offer the experience you require for less money than a younger candidate requiring full benefits.
  • They may offer your younger employees valuable mentoring for free.
  • They’re probably more comfortable than younger candidates with flexible hours.
  • They are not aggressively seeking to advance their career, so they may be perfectly comfortable in the role you give them.
  • As such, they are not job-hoppers—and turnover is expensive for any company.
  • They’re experienced at problem solving.
  • More-seasoned talent may be more engaged—they possess a desire to be involved, and are focused on tasks.
  • They’re likely to be surprisingly technological savvy. Boomers are comfortable using computers. Where there are skill gaps, they can and are eager to learn.
  • An older candidate will be appreciative for an offer of employment—they know they’re fortunate to be working at their age.
  • Many military veterans are in this age group, and hiring those who have served may contribute to your company’s culture and brand.
  • An age-diverse workforce makes sense since older employees represent a large segment of the public and your customer base. They may know that market better than the rest of your team.
  • They already know what they’re good at.

Recruiting the Mature Worker

It may make sense to give due consideration to older talent applying for jobs with your company. A few suggestions:

  • Adopt mature-age practices.
    • Reduce fears of negative managerial attitudes, discrimination, and stereotypes.
    • Focus on their work.
    • Offer challenging, meaningful work for a sense of contribution and value.
    • Adopt reverse mentoring.
    • Bring different ages together to cooperate and bring varied perspectives.
    • Consider a gradual phase-out plan into retirement.

Everybody wants to feel they can make a contribution of value, be involved, and earn respect, even older workers. Consider the opportunities that await them and your company when you give them that chance.

How to Retain Older Workers

Older workers, like all employees, want a workplace that respects them and meets their needs. Your company can do several things to fit that bill:

  • Provide flexible work arrangements. Older workers value flexibility. Companies can allow for shorter shifts for older employees or offer a schedule maintaining a set number of hours worked, but allowing changes in arrival and departure times as needed.
  • Bridge the gap between employment and retirement. Older workers may want to gradually scale back their work—whether their hours, responsibilities, or workload. Companies can shift older workers into new roles in which their expertise will be valued.
  • Employers can also provide part-time or seasonal work.
  • Emphasize health and wellness. One of the top priorities for older workers is to maintain access to health insurance. Retaining valuable older employees can outweigh the costs of giving them access to healthcare coverage. This can include providing healthcare for part-time workers and plans offering coverage to dependents.
  • Offer training. Older workers, just like younger workers, need and want to update their skills. Older employees can often learn more efficiently than their less experienced peers by applying new knowledge to their existing knowledge—and they then have the opportunity to pass along their knowledge to younger workers.
  • Recognize contributions. All employees want to feel valued, and they will be more satisfied with their jobs if they are recognized for their contributions. Companies can provide this recognition by asking older workers to continue working and assigning them new—and important—
  • Older workers can continue to work in their field by mentoring, whereby their employers can maintain access to their skills and knowledge. A company can offer incentives for mentoring, change the employee’s position to that of mentor, or bring older workers back to train younger workers.

Assist in Retirement Planning

Many older employees don’t know if they’re financially able to retire or understand the financial implications of retirement. Retirement planning assistance provided by employers can be a valuable tool for them.

Finally, if there is open dialogue about retirement in the workplace, older workers will be more likely to engage with their supervisors about their plans for retirement. The company will be better able to retain these workers and bridge the gap between older and younger workers.


Alexandra Walsh is the vice president of Association Vision, a Washington, D.C.–area communications company. She has extensive experience in management positions with a range of organizations.

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