Aging boomers fill in blanks for em­ploy­ers

Winnipeg Free Press - Section H - - CAREERS - COLLEEN COATES

BY post­pon­ing their re­tire­ment plans, baby boomers have de­layed the loom­ing worker short­fall and tem­po­rar­ily al­le­vi­ated the panic to find suit­able re­place­ments for older work­ers trad­ing in their brief­cases for golf bags.

Ac­cord­ing to labour force sta­tis­tics from the Or­ga­ni­za­tion for Eco­nomic Co-op­er­a­tion and De­vel­op­ment, there has been a 35 per cent in­crease in the num­ber of Cana­di­ans over the age of 55 in the last 10 years. At the same time, there has been a 25 per cent de­crease in Cana­di­ans un­der the age of 45.

Clearly, these kinds of fig­ures, along with Sta­tis­tics Canada’s re­port that there were more than 300,000 Cana­di­ans aged 65 or older work­ing as of 2001, are hav­ing a great im­pact on busi­nesses across the coun­try. From re­cruit­ment and re­ten­tion ef­forts to how em­ploy­ees are mo­ti­vated and re­warded, or­ga­ni­za­tions in ev­ery sec­tor must take a close look at the de­mo­graph­ics of their work­force and iden­tify ar­eas re­quir­ing at­ten­tion to­day to avoid a po­ten­tial cri­sis to­mor­row.

There is a huge op­por­tu­nity for em­ploy­ers to ben­e­fit from em­ploy­ees who are choos­ing to stay in the work­force longer, whether out of per­sonal need or a de­sire to con­tinue work­ing.

The eco­nomic down­turn caused many Cana­di­ans to re-ex­am­ine their in­vest­ments and re­tire­ment sav­ings. Those find­ing too small a nest egg re­al­ized they could no longer af­ford to leave the work­place. That isn’t un­com­mon. These days, it’s rare to hear of any­one achiev­ing the Free­dom 55 dream that was still within reach only a decade or two ago.

On the pos­i­tive side, peo­ple are also liv­ing longer and un­der­stand the im­por­tance of a healthy, well-bal­anced life­style. As a re­sult, feel­ing good gives them the op­tion of work­ing as long as they want. Ma­jor fac­tors in the de­ci­sion to work be­yond the tra­di­tional re­tire­ment age in­clude staying men­tally ac­tive, staying phys­i­cally ac­tive, be­ing pro­duc­tive and help­ful, as well as for the en­joy­ment of do­ing some­thing fun.

Be­cause the boomers are work­ing longer and still con­tribut­ing to tax rev­enue cof­fers, there is a col­lec­tive sigh of re­lief from em­ploy­ers and from gov­ern­ment agen­cies who have been scram­bling to pre­pare for a mass ex­o­dus of re­tirees.

How­ever, we have been so fo­cused on plug­ging the gap and wor­ry­ing about what it will take to at­tract and pro­mote younger work­ers to re­place the de­part­ing boomers that we haven’t spent nearly enough time plan­ning on what to do when work­ers are ready to clean out their desks by age 65.

Em­ploy­ers, there are a num­ber of ways to pre­pare your com­pany to sup­port em­ploy­ees who choose to work be­yond tra­di­tional re­tire­ment age. Start by ask­ing:

What ad­van­tages are we get­ting by en­cour­ag­ing em­ploy­ees to stay in the work­force longer? One of the best cases for re­tain­ing boomers is that they can as­sist with knowl­edge trans­fer among mul­ti­ple gen­er­a­tions now present in the work­place and men­tor younger work­ers. Ac­cord­ing to re­search, among the many pos­i­tive traits of this gen­er­a­tion are valu­able ex­pe­ri­ence, strong work ethic, loy­alty and flex­i­bil­ity.

How ac­com­mo­dat­ing are we to the chang­ing needs of em­ploy­ees? Those ap­proach­ing re­tire­ment and be­yond may want to work in a flex­i­ble en­vi­ron­ment with shorter hours, con­tract work, job shar­ing or telecom­mut­ing op­tions.

How at­trac­tive are the ben­e­fits we of­fer? All em­ploy­ees would gain from a ben­e­fits plan that en­cour­ages them to live well-bal­anced lives both at and away from work. A work­place that sub­si­dizes fit­ness mem­ber­ships, of­fers good nu­tri­tional op­tions at lunch and sup­ports other healthy life­style choices is be­com­ing more of an ex­pec­ta­tion of work­ers re­gard­less of age.

Is our man­age­ment team able to sup­port em­ploy­ees of vary­ing ages? Young man­agers may not feel com­fort­able or sim­ply don’t know how to man­age em­ploy­ees older than them­selves. At the same time, em­ploy­ees can strug­gle to get the level of sup­port they need from a younger su­per­vi­sor. Com­mu­ni­ca­tion is key in any or­ga­ni­za­tion, but par­tic­u­larly where mul­ti­ple gen­er­a­tions are em­ployed.

Do the com­pe­ten­cies of our em­ploy­ees suit their cur­rent roles? Re­gard­less of age, get the most out of your peo­ple by as­sess­ing their strengths from time to time. Ask in­di­vid­u­als ap­proach­ing re­tire­ment if they en­joy their job or if there is some­thing else they want to do. Can they see them­selves as a men­tor, a con­sul­tant, a trainer or per­haps con­tribut­ing in some other ca­pac­ity that re­quires at­ten­tion in your or­ga­ni­za­tion?

Em­ploy­ees ap­proach­ing re­tire­ment and be­yond bring an ex­cep­tional amount of knowl­edge and ex­pe­ri­ence to the work­place. Be­cause there is so much the rest of the work­force can learn work­ing along­side these peo­ple, we should en­cour­age them to stay as long as pos­si­ble in­stead of let­ting them walk out the door.

— With re­port­ing by Bar­bara Chabai

Colleen Coates, CHRP, CCP, is a prac­tice leader with Peo­ple First HR Ser­vices Ltd. She can be con­tacted at ccoates@peo­ple­firsthr. com.

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