The Shift from Retirement to Career Refinement
The word retirement is no longer relevant as more older Americans are continuing to work either full-time or part-time well after the age of 65. Seeking both financial stability and greater fulfillment, the majority of mature workers are no longer thinking about retirement at a defined age. Instead, they're largely thinking about how to refine their careers to meet their changing lifestyles. In a recent Gallup poll, 74% of employed adults said they planned to work past retirement age. Entrepreneurship is highest among people over 65, at the same time that it is decreasing for millennials. The shift from thinking about retirement as the time when you get the gold watch and leave the work space to pursue hobbies and relax is long gone. It’s time for organizations to catch up.
The Third Wave: Mature Age Workers
Because people are living longer, healthier lives, they need to start thinking about their later career years – the third wave, well before they are in the midst of it. Proactive organizations are meeting with employees starting at age 50 and helping them to think about how they want to refine their lives and their work in the coming decades. This holistic approach often includes discussions and advice around work, health, finances and community.
These late career conversations are mutually beneficial for the employee and the employer. When employers are proactive about providing the type of guidance individuals need to set realistic and actionable goals, the employee feels valued and supported. As a consequence, team members are more engaged and individual performance increases as does longevity with the organization. Together, employers and employees can create a refinement plan that capitalizes on the individual’s extensive skills and knowledge to propel the company forward.
The challenge for organizations is to have the structures in place to be able to offer a variety of work arrangements to people who are nearing the third wave of their careers. Creative retirement programs offer employees a vehicle by which to explore the possibilities and find ways to apply their unique skills and experiences in a way that benefits their employers. For companies hoping to provide meaningful career development programs for mature age employees, the focus and goal of these initiatives should be on creating opportunities for purposeful work.
Purposeful work can take many forms, including:
- Leadership roles: – Given the average age of a CEO is 57, it’s not unreasonable to expect your older workers to advance into or remain as company leaders.
- Same function, different format: The organization and mature worker can benefit from their continuance in the same role, but change the structure of the working relationship with a flexible schedule, remote work, or consultant arrangement.
- Entrepreneurship: Even if employees decide to leave the organization, they may become your customers or your providers. Helping people find their work passion keeps organizations in good stead within the professional community.
- Gig Economy: The gig economy offers flexibility, choice and income to the project-oriented worker. In addition to working for your organization either part-time or as a consultant, mature age workers can pursue passions through other part-time gigs.
- Philanthropic endeavors: Employees can enhance the company brand by concurrently or consecutively working with a charitable organization, whether it be as a hands-on volunteer, board member or funder.
Creative retirement and career development
As people mature and further refine their career trajectories based on financial needs, lifestyle changes—including less responsibilities for children living at home and possibly fewer financial responsibilities for dependents—organizations can help facilitate refinements through targeted career development programs. Companies are already finding better ways to support people through the onboarding process and by providing early career development and leadership training for mid-career advancement.
The next logical step is to provide a career path for people in the third phase of their careers. Providing career development at this stage in the employee journey not only addresses the goal of better engagement and performance, it’s a good place to start finding ways for legacy employees to share their wealth of experience and institutional knowledge with others in the organization.
HR leaders and the organizations they serve have been struggling with the realities of employee turnover for the past couple of years as millennials have taken center stage as the generation of job hoppers. What hasn’t been top of mind are those older employees who were raised in a culture of loyalty and work ethic and who have been at the organizations for more than two to three years. During that time, they have amassed organizational knowledge—a first-hand understanding of where the company has been and how it has evolved to be the organization it is now. Forward thinking HR leaders are encouraging these people to contribute through a giving mentality that allows them to share what they know with others in the organization.
Encourage your mature age workers to share what they know as:
- Contributors to employee engagement initiatives
- Team leads and managers
Of course, before any career development or mature age workforce initiative can really be effective, HR needs to take the lead in making sure managers are first trained to be mentors and are prepared to have these conversations with the people on their teams. It sometimes takes a bit of a workplace culture shift, but if the message comes from the executive staff and mid-level managers are evaluated on their ability to make these initiatives work, then the shift will happen—over time. The message to managers must be that part of their job is developing talent, not just producing results.
Raising the engagement bar
Current statistics reflect the idea that the majority of people are not actively engaged in their jobs. In fact, data from Gallup shows that only 32% of people surveyed feel they are working to their full potential. This is a real loss for organizations hoping to stay competitive in their market niches. This doesn’t mean that people are productive and doing the job they are hiring for, it really means that the majority of people could be delivering so much more value to their organizations to which they belong if they are more accurately matched to the right job within the organization and are given opportunities for growth, meaning, and purpose.
The consequences of this statistic are significant for organizations. In a high employment economy, under-engaged workers who are ready to move up or to tackle new challenges, move out of the organization to find those opportunities elsewhere. Even worse, because changing jobs can be scary, people stay in jobs that are less than satisfying to keep a paycheck, a commute, and the benefits they need. This scenario is probably most true for the mature workforce because they may be thinking that they only have five or so more years to work full time, so staying in a dead-end role is less risky than going out to find a new job.
Because this generation of people were raised with a value for stability, for advancing in a linear way, and with less tolerance for risk, the incidence of mature workers marking time until they can leave without financial risk is greater than with, say, the millennial generation.
Understanding the Baby Boomer generation and their values of stability, loyalty, purpose and work will help HR leaders retain this valuable resource. If HR can find ways to support these employees, they will be happier and more engaged. If they are connecting and if their knowledge is valued and they’re being connected to the other generations in the workplace, they will feel their knowledge and experiences are valued—there’s no greater compliment.
Asking mature age employees to lead training sessions, to mentor the other generations in the workplace, and to share institutional knowledge provides an opportunity for all members of the organization to benefit. Through these programs, mentees learn new skills and generations make connections throughout the organization. When people are connected, they’re more likely to stay, grow, and thrive.
America’s population is aging. By 2030, the 65+ population will be 20% of all Americans. It is essential that companies make the most of that fact and integrate and support a multi-generational workforce.