10 ways to make the most of your more experienced workforce

Yvonne Sonsino from Mercer outlines how employers can become more age ready and ensure that bias and lack of awareness don’t lead to more experienced talent going to waste.

Older man and younger woman looking at a computer


The experienced workforce, which for the purposes of this article includes workers over age 50, is a rapidly growing, influential talent segment. Today’s longer life expectancies have led to longer, less-conventional careers for experienced workers — but employers often find themselves challenged to capitalise on this demographic mega-trend.

In short, most companies aren’t “age ready”. Most established organisations simply aren’t in a position to capture the value of experienced workers and have not prioritised the economic and business imperatives for doing so. They still rely on the outdated assumption that people want to retire in their early 60s and can afford to do so; they aren’t focused on generational diversity or combating ageism in their ranks; finally, they believe there is an endless supply of younger workers to fuel labour supply, and in most developed geographies, this is just not the case as birth rates have fallen. Most organisations also aren’t prepared to offer the alternative work arrangements, flexibility, technical training and career development opportunities that experienced workers (indeed all workers) will need to be successful in the digital age.

Empowering the experienced workforce

The longer employers fail to recognise the magnitude of the issue, the more they will be at risk — from age-related lawsuits, waning productivity and loss of valuable institutional knowledge. To become age-ready employers it’s important to better understand the significant presence and potential of an experienced workforce.

Here are 10 things any company can do to kick-start that process:

1. Assess your internal labour market dynamics to address age-related trends and pinch points.

Rather than relying on generalised assumptions about your experienced workers; take a research-based approach to better understand the actual demographics of your own organisation, where there are critical skill gaps and how talent moves through your business, to position yourselves for success.

2. Avoid making assumptions and use your data to get the facts about whether or how age relates to performance in your enterprise.

Sophisticated data analysis can reveal invaluable insights, such as learning how the productivity of individuals and groups in certain job roles may change with age. You can then use these findings to create strategies that put the right people in the right jobs at the right time. Evidence shows that age diverse teams outperform.

3. Develop and implement the people and career strategies that embrace the experienced workforce.

Go back to the data to examine how they’re being hired, trained, promoted and exited, and evaluate whether those talent practices align with the reality of future business needs. If necessary, consider placing more emphasis on enabling experienced workers through more development opportunities, alternative career pathways and late-career benefits, such as pre-retirement education, career counselling and flexible working.

4. Understand what impact your retirement plan design has on the trajectory of retirement readiness and talent flow.

Employers who ignore retirement plan design and risk are often met with detrimental surprises. For example, when too many experienced workers delay retirement because of affordability, it can cause a bottleneck and turnover among employees who are seeking promotions. On the other hand, when too many retirements happen at once, it can drain the company of institutional knowledge, specialised skills and customer relationships. A more proactive company can statistically evaluate these risks and work with employees to manage the flow of retirements deliberately through better attention to plan design. Can your workers draw pension and continue working, for example, and do you offer a phased retirement programme?

5. Initiate conversations with employees about what they want and need and how they might work differently.

Unquestionably, today’s world of work looks very different from the time when people over 50 first started their careers. In recent conversations, we have found that very high numbers of experienced workers want to work differently in future. The evidence to date shows that they either want more flexibility to do other things or more development opportunities to take their careers in a new direction. Experienced workers may well be called upon to take on mentoring and coaching roles, as well as tackle projects that draw on their deep knowledge.

6. Examine and proactively address how ageism might manifest in your organisation.

Analyse pay, bonus and performance grade distributions compared with other age groups to check for equity; examine promotion and recruitment statistics through a lens focused on ageing and ageism. In addition, make concrete plans to ensure that age diversity is prioritised at the same level as diversity of race, gender and sexual orientation. Do you have an age champion who advocates for this group, for example? Do you include age in your Diversity and Inclusion checks when it comes to hiring? When we asked five years ago we found over 90% of recruiters ‘ignored’ age in their monitoring process.

7. Develop a lifelong learning approach that positions people to embrace the jobs of the future.

Focus on driving an organisational culture supported by specific programmes that encourage ongoing training, education and reskilling for people of all ages.

8. Implement an effective flexible working strategy.

Thanks largely to technology, traditional methods of “getting the work done” have changed dramatically and this affects experienced workers as much as anyone. Employers must look beyond a basic telecommuting policy to consider the full spectrum of which jobs can be done when, where and by whom — whether it’s a full-time employee, a part-time contractor, a remote freelancer, an automated programme or a combination of these. The job content may also benefit from review – question whether you pay for skills or tasks.

9. Develop and implement a programme offering support for those who have caregiver responsibilities.

Experienced workers may not have young children at home, but many care for their elderly parents or for their grandchildren, or both. Affording employees the same level of flexibility, emotional support and financial benefits with caregiving responsibilities can boost morale and productivity and is a much more inclusive approach.

10. Create and sustain an inclusive culture that supports and enables your experienced-worker strategy.

Ensuring the success of new, age-ready strategies requires visible and vocal support from leadership, open and honest communication with employees and devoted resources designed to facilitate change and eradicate unconscious bias.

Yvonne Sonsino is Global Co-Leader Next Stage at Mercer. Mercer’s full point of view on the longevity challenge, “Are You Age-Ready?,” offers detailed insights to help companies understand their experienced workforce and lay the groundwork for an age-ready employment strategy. Run the diagnostic to get invaluable insights as to the key risk factors for your organisation. More information: [email protected]. This article is adapted from an article on the International Longevity Centre UK’s website here.

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