Is your company prepared for the ageing workforce?

Older employees bring added value to a business, says new Bain report, but they expect flexibility, autonomy and interesting work in return. Are you ready?

Move over Quiet Quitting, there's a new movement in town. 

Quiet Returning. The return of retirees to the workplace, driven by a hot jobs market and rising inflation. 

This movement marks a complete reversal of the rise in early retirement witnessed during the pandemic, and is reflective of the long-term movement towards people working later in life.

According to US federal data, people ages 55 and older are the fastest-growing group in the workforce.

So much so that by 2030, more than 150 million workers will be aged over 55, Bain reveals in a new report – Better with Age:  The Rising Importance of Older Workers.

This means that by 2031 employees aged 55 or over will likely make up more than a quarter of the workforce in the Group of Seven nations – US, UK, France, Germany, Canada, Italy, and Japan.  

“Populations are ageing; work lives are lengthening. Fewer young people are entering the workforce, due partly to lower rates, partly to longer education,” Bain analysts say.

“A long-term trend towards earlier retirement is slowly going into reverse.”

Are organisations ready for this? And crucially, are they ready to turn this sector of the workforce into a competitive advantage?

According to Bain, while a growing number of companies are focusing on recruiting, retaining, re-skilling and respecting the strengths of older workers, few actually recognise their changing needs and priorities, or invest in them.

Something Bain believes is a missed opportunity. 

“Despite the shift, it’s rare to see organisations put programmes in place to integrate older workers into their talent system,” Bain said.

Among such programmes and policies – unbiased recruiting processes, benefits to appeal to employees all life stages, return-to-work programs, purposeful creation of mixed-age teams, lifelong learning opportunities and mentoring programs. 

In a global employer survey from 2020, AARP founder fewer than 4% of firms were already committed to such programs, with a further 27% saying they were “very likely” to explore this path in the future.

Programs to support a multi-generational workforce are rare

There are the outliers, of course – organisations who were early to spot and embrace the ‘older worker’ opportunity.

CVS Health has long recognised the value of older employees, who comprise over 20% of their workforce. Among other initiatives, CVS launched its Snowbirds program 10 years ago, allowing several hundred pharmacists and others who live in cold climates to relocate to warmer states for the winter.

While The Home Depot partnered with AARP nearly 20 years ago (2004) to recruit and train workers 55 and older; and 15 years ago, BMW adapted a section of its plant in Southern Bavaria to make the working day easier for the senior workforce.

Today, around 2,500 companies have signed the AARP Employer Pledge, demonstrating their commitment to recruiting across diverse age groups, with commitments rising 122% from 2021 to 2022.

Among signatories, big-name companies such as McDonald’s, Microsoft, Bank of America, Starbucks, Wells Fargo, Macy’s and Marriott International.

Unique value of older workers

To these companies at least, age is an asset. Not just because they see the benefits that an age-diverse workforce brings, but many are recruiting seniors on the promise that age equals a stronger work ethic.

Compelling OECD research has found that age-diverse firms are lower in turnover and higher in productivity than benchmarks. The advantage of a multi-generational workforce in that it enables effective synergies between experienced and less experienced staff to the benefit of employers and employees.

Not just that, but many realise the unique advantages that older workers bring. Recent research from employee scheduling company Homebase suggests older workers are engaged, more likely to look forward to work, more connected to their companies, and less likely to consider quitting.

Bain research backs this up. Older workers tend to be more loyal to their employers, more satisfied at work, and with life in general.

This makes them especially beneficial to those employers who prioritise retention. Older workers tend to value stability and are not generally looking for the next move, or to climb the ladder. Qui

Older workers want interesting work, autonomy, flexibility

There are challenges of course. Not all jobs are equal when it comes to age diversity, as BMW recognised in adapting it assembly line; and older workers are not all the same. But by understanding the motivations, strengths and needs of the senior workforce, organisations can find ways to turn employee skills into sources of competitive advantage.

According to Bain, older workers tend to fall into two of six worker types. Feedback from more than 40,000 workers in 19 countries paints most senior as Artisans or Givers – workers who feel rewarded by seeing their actions make a positive impact on the lives of others.

While the Givers like to mentor, for example, the Artisans tend to set high standards of mastery for those around them.

Before age 60, the average worker in developed markets is primarily motivated by good compensation, but around 60, there is a tipping point. “Interesting work becomes the number one job attribute, and both autonomy and flexibility significantly increase in importance,” Bain reports.

Undertaking interesting work is a priority for older workers

BMW recognises these factors and has put in place its Senior Experts program which sees retired workers return to the company part-time, to share their expertise with younger colleagues. Autonomy. Check. Flexibility. Check. Helping others. Check.

While older workers are less interested in learning and growth, with 3% of over-55s rating learning as their top motivator, compared with 8% for 18- to 24-year-olds, they are still eager to learn.

If employers want to tap into senior workers, organisations must adapt their talent programs to meet these needs.

That might mean creating more flexible and part-time positions for mature workers, or designing training programs to help accelerate their particular pursuit of interesting work.

Among companies crafting specialist talent programs to meet the needs of seniors, Home Depot, Google, Atos, Marriott and Allianz have all committed to recruiting, retaining, re-skilling and respecting the strengths of this group of workers.

Five companies innovating with senior worker programs

  • Marriott The hotel group's Flex Options program offers new roles for 325,000 older associates that are less physically taxing.

  • Global tech firm Atos launched a program in 2021 to bridge the skill gaps of its 21,000 employees over the age of 50. Employees are given autonomy in setting their own goals and deciding what courses, certifications, and training they believe will benefit them. All training is free.

  • Google has developed its US$10 million Digital Skills Ready@50+ program, in partnership with its charitable foundation and with AARP. Kicking off last year, the program provides training to 25,000 people aged 50 and older who are low-income.

  • Allianz has taken an especially inspiring view of age inclusion across the five generations at the firm and built multiple programs, under the Allianz Engage banner, designed to help each generative thrive on its own unique terms.

  • Manpower Group The global staffing agency has launched a placement program for mature workers after receiving concerns about labour shortages and high turnover from clients.

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