Mark Donohue, CEO of LifeGuides
Diane Doster, Director of Strategic Partnerships
The American workforce is aging. From the corner office to the cubicles, from sea to shining sea, older employees are playing an increasingly large role in our country’s economy.
As a result, the American workforce is also getting wiser. Never in our history have we had as much experience and wisdom actively participating in the workplace.
Aging is a time filled with firsts and opportunity, and that’s true for both individuals and employers. Today’s longevity economy promises an unprecedented position of growth, productivity, and purpose.
With the number of working individuals ages 55 and older projected to make up 25% of the labor force by 2026, we need to recognize aging as the asset that it truly is. The entire range of employees working through their “third act” of life deserves the same, if not more, attention from corporate leaders than the younger talent that most often receives the spotlight.
Aging workers are real people, with real wisdom, real experience, and real stories. Their contributions to the economy should not be overlooked, and their workplace experience should be one of support and personal growth.
How the Longevity Economy Benefits Companies
Yes, aging employees can benefit from working later in life. But even more so, companies can benefit from employing aging Americans, many of whom remain eager to work despite age-related workplace challenges.
In a survey by the Society for Human Resource Management, 70% of HR professionals reported that the experience, maturity and work ethic demonstrated by aging workers set them apart and made them desirable candidates.
Aging workers are also uniquely suited to serve as mentors to younger employees. In work as in life, we have all benefited from the experience of learning from someone who has “been there.” A 2016 survey of Millennials found that providing mentorships was crucial for retaining young workers, who often feel directionless and unprepared to succeed in their organizations. When provided with a mentor, younger workers were twice as likely to remain with a company for five years.
Some people are working later in life because they have to, but many also stay employed because they want to – to feel a sense of purpose or just to earn a little extra income. While some assume aging workers will be “checked out” after years on the job, research shows that in reality, older workers demonstrate higher levels of engagement, stronger work ethics and more loyalty.
The Benefits of Delaying Retirement
However great for employers, this boon isn’t one-sided. There are benefits, too, for employees who choose to delay retirement. In addition to a paycheck, work can lead to improved well-being.
Research has shown that those who remain in the workforce enjoy:
Improved cognitive functioning. Continuing to work can keep us mentally fit. Whereas retirement has been linked to memory decline, working has been shown to keep cognitive skills sharp.
Stronger social networks. A 2016 study found that among people ages 57-85, those who continued to work had 25% more social connections.
Increased fulfillment. Compared to younger workers, older employees are more likely to report that their jobs provide personal fulfillment and a sense of purpose, according to a study by the AARP.
Aging on the Clock: Difficulties Faced by Aging Workers
The numbers tell a promising story for companies and individuals alike when it comes to the longevity economy. What they don’t capture, however, are the unique and sometimes devastating Life Challenges aging workers face.
Consider the nurse at your doctor’s office—after she finishes her shift, she’s going across town to check in on her elderly parents.
Or your favorite postal service clerk, who recently took out a second mortgage to help support her grandchildren and feels constantly weighed down by financial stress.
Every day during the next 10 years, 10,000 baby boomers will reach age 65. As fewer choose to stop working or have the ability to retire, companies must support the unique Life Challenges of this group of employees.
From health challenges to financial stress to caregiver responsibilities, aging workers face a number of challenges while balancing their careers and personal lives.
When it comes to health, aging workers have more than their own ailments, appointments and bills to consider. For example, as the country ages, increasing numbers of older Americans are caring for parents, spouses and other elderly loved ones with health conditions like Alzheimer's disease, while also caring for children. Of the 43.5 million unpaid family caregivers in America, the majority are 50 and above, found a report by the AARP. Life’s inevitable challenges escalate as we get older, particularly for this unique “sandwich” generation.
Financial strain can also hit particularly hard as retirement nears. While many workers do report feeling confident in their savings, a significant portion have suffered setbacks that make leaving the workforce impossible. According to a poll by the Employee Benefits Research Institute, 35% of workers ages 50 and above were not confident that they had adequate funds to live comfortably through retirement.
These personal challenges don’t disappear during working hours. Research has consistently shown that stress and chronic health conditions affect work performance. A study by Cigna found that 62% of workers were less productive when navigating personal matters. In another study on employees at Dow Chemical Company, chronic health conditions were shown to greatly reduce worker productivity—so much so that the costs associated with employees coming to work while sick was greater than the cost of medical treatment, a huge factor in corporate presenteeism loss.
How Companies Can Support & Retain Older Employees
In order to meet the needs of an aging workforce, companies must develop programs and policies to support employees. These programs include:
Training & Skill Development By providing aging workers with career development programs, organizations can ensure employees are prepared to grow within their roles, meet the needs of a modern workplace and continue to pursue advancement opportunities. It’s an opportunity many companies are missing: only 42% of employers have increased their training programs in response to their aging workforce, according to a recent survey.
Peer Support Programs Navigating the Life Challenges associated with aging can be stressful, isolating and even dangerous. For example, caring for a chronically ill loved one has been shown to result in health problems for the caregiver. A 2011 survey by the Department of Health and Human Services found that caregiving was linked to depression, anxiety, sleeplessness, pain and exhaustion.
Numerous studies have shown that peer support can reduce stress, increase self-esteem and empower people to make positive changes. By providing qualified, trained peer support to those experiencing personal challenges, employers can improve the well-being of aging workers—and, in turn, the well-being of the company.
Health & Wellness Programs
Access to affordable, quality healthcare is important to older workers, who are more likely to have chronic health conditions and disabilities. While the upfront costs of such programs may be higher, research has shown that companies ultimately benefit by enjoying greater worker productivity and fewer disability leaves.
In addition to employer-paid healthcare, wellness programs can be beneficial to older workers experiencing personal or career-related stress. For example, on-site yoga and meditation programs have been shown to reduce chronic stress among employees.
Not only do many older workers not have the funds to retire, but a surprising amount don’t have the financial literacy to begin planning. According to a recent survey by the AARP, only 57% of workers over the age of 50 report that they understand how much money they’ll need to comfortably retire.
While providing retirement plans is important, so is offering financial counseling services that can help workers appropriately manage their investments. Employer-sponsored financial education has been shown to increase household savings and better prepare workers for retirement.
The Takeaway: Aging, Working and Thriving
Getting older is an exciting thing for us all. As we enter into a new period of our lives, we get the chance to confront new and exciting challenges and opportunities.
To support the growing longevity economy, organizations must adopt new programs and policies to support the unique Life Challenges the aging workforce experiences.
Older Americans aren’t simply able to work—they’re capable of thriving and evolving in the modern workplace. When experienced employees stay in the workforce, companies benefit from their dedication, and younger coworkers reap the benefits of learning from seasoned professionals.
In the wise words of writer Betty Friedan: “Aging is not ‘lost youth,’ but a new stage of opportunity and strength.” It’s time we start enabling this opportunity to flourish. Schedule a demo with our VP today to learn how offering peer-to-peer support like LifeGuides can help your aging workers achieve their best.