How to Attract and Keep Older Employees
By Darren Hornigold, Director, EWS Global Talent Sourcing
A US-based client recently asked me to build a talent pipeline for business development leaders. Specifically, they said they wanted to add experience and gravitas, and to “improve the balance of gray matter and gray hair” in their organization.
Focusing on age diversity is a relatively new trend in the talent solutions market, but this client is not alone. In the United States, over 1,000 companies have joined the AARP Pledge Program to recruit across diverse age groups and “consider all applications equally, regardless of age”. These companies are themselves a diverse group and include the likes of McDonald’s, Marriott, and Microsoft.
In the UK several high-profile employers have also committed to employing older workers, including Aviva, Boots, and Next. Indeed, before the pandemic, research from Glassdoor suggested that baby boomers would be the fastest growing generation in the US and UK workforce in 2020.
Benefits of hiring older workers
These companies have cottoned on to the benefits of hiring older workers, and there are plenty of them:
- Older workers are more loyal. A study by the CIPD found that over 55s are three times less likely to want to change jobs than 18-24-year-olds.
- Older works are more motivated. A majority of retired US workers would consider returning to the workplace, according to this 2022 CNBC survey. Meanwhile, a Pew study found that older workers are most likely to be “extremely” or “very” satisfied with their job.
- Older workers are tech savvy. As far back as 2016, studies showed that older workers were just as tech savvy as younger generations in the workplace, while research published by the Pew Center in 2022 showed that older people in general are becoming more tech savvy.
- Older workers have a better work ethic. In a Pew study of inter-generational attitudes, 75% of respondents said that older people have a better work ethic.
- Retaining older workers cuts recruitment costs. According to this website, the UK utilities company Centrica saved c. $2.5 million in annual recruitment costs by retaining more older workers.
On top of these benefits, ageing populations around the world mean that the average age of people in work is rising. Even in the United States, which has one of the healthiest demographics among developed nations, one third of the workforce is aged 50 or above.
US population pyramid, 2023. Source: Populationpyramid.net
Older generations are also becoming the dominant market for a majority of goods and services. The baby boomers – those born between 1946 and 1964 – have the highest net worth of any generation. Any company that wants to sell to this generation would benefit from having workers from that generation in prominent strategic and customer-facing positions.
Five tactics to tap an older talent pool
With all this in mind, let’s look at some effective tactics companies can use to tap into older talent pools:
1. Ensure your HR team is age diverse
According to 55Redefined, “only 24% of HR leaders aged 25-30 were ‘very’ willing or motivated to recruit workers aged 55–75, a stark contrast to the 63% of older HR leaders aged 46-50.” Younger HR leaders may be biased against hiring older workers, so you must ensure you have an age diverse HR team.
2. Address age bias in job ads and on your website
We know how important it is to weed out unconscious bias when it comes to gender, race, and ethnicity. It’s the same for older workers. Use neutral language and appropriate imagery that isn’t all young, fresh-faced graduates. Here are some practical examples to use as a guide.
3. Consider offering more flexible working as part of the job description
In the CNBC survey of older workers mentioned above, many respondents cited pay, flexible hours, and work-life balance as “the top criteria for the right job”. If you’re serious about attracting older workers, consider which roles you can make flexible, both in terms of hours and home working. The more flexibility you can offer, the broader a cross-section of older people will apply.
4. Actively target older talent pools
Not only do you need to use age-appropriate language and imagery on your website and in job ads to attract older workers. You also need to access older talent pools, map out older talent, and appeal to them in the places they are most likely to look for work.
5. Work with experienced talent consultants who can help
Most HR teams are too busy to make significant changes to their hiring processes. With that in mind, it may be most cost effective and faster to invest in experienced talent consultants with expertise in handling recruitment or researching and mapping older talent. When partnering with a talent consultancy, ask how many of their consultants are aged 50 and above. How much experience have they had with targeting older, more experienced workers? Ask for testimonials and references.
Five tactics to retain older talent
Once you start attracting older workers to your organization, the next step is to keep hold of them. As we saw in the Centrica example, the annual recruitment savings from retaining older workers can be huge. At the same time, their higher motivation, loyalty, and work ethic is likely to have a direct positive impact on your productivity and the bottom line. Here are five ways to retain older workers:
1. Offer training in new skills
According to this CBI article, most over-50s leave their jobs due to boredom, so offer training in new skills. This is a huge motivating factor and will keep older employees working for you for longer.
2. Develop mentoring programs
Older employees have a lot to teach junior colleagues about the company, the industry, and even the wider world of work. Many are also keen to learn about the perspectives and new ideas of younger generations.
3. Offer flexibility around family commitments and common health issues
Health issues and family commitments are statistically more likely to be an issue for older workers. You can offer a range of flexible work options to accommodate them, from job-sharing and compressed work weeks to remote work, hybrid work and project-based work. The more understanding and flexible you can be, the more your older workers are likely to appreciate it.
4. Listen to your older workers
Encourage older employees to join existing employee resource groups or create one of their own, to have a forum where they can network and share issues in a safe space.
5. Allow your older workers to shine
The more you highlight the achievements of your older workers in your PR, your social media channels, or on your website, the more your older workforce will feel represented and respected. Give older workers management responsibilities and make sure they are part of your brand image. Not only will this help to retain existing workers. It will also make you more attractive to older talent when you’re recruiting.
Tap into a silver mine of valuable talent – before your competitors beat you to it
The over-50s talent market is one of the most valuable but least tapped in the world today. With so many jobs remaining unfilled and many older workers keen to return to the workplace, this won’t remain the case much longer. Do you know how your competitors are attracting and retaining older talent?
At EWS, competitor intelligence is just one of the services we offer. Whatever workforce diversity needs you have, our two decades-plus of outsourced talent acquisition and research experience means we’ll help you find the perfect solution.
Every project we undertake is bespoke and aligned to each client’s specific business needs, market challenges, and workplace culture.
Get in touch for an initial, no-obligation conversation to see how we could help.