Retain Your Older Workers (It’s Good for Business)

According to a recent CareerBuilder survey, more than half of workers over age 60 plan to continue working in some capacity after retiring from their current career. I've read about the “graying of the workforce” and the impending “brain drain” for years, and it's easy to be overwhelmed by the topic's sheer magnitude. And while it might be your first instinct to think that the shift is toward part-time work, the population of individuals over 65 who are pursuing full-time work has been on the rise for years. Today I'd like to share a short anecdote to help illustrate how this can play out in the real world and to teach a lesson in retaining older workers.

The Risk of Employee Retirement

When I was working as an HR Director several years back, an employee called me and told me he planned to quit. When pressed, he admitted that he liked the job and his coworkers, but he wanted to spend time with his grandchildren and pursue some hobbies.

At the time, several things were running through my head simultaneously:

  • Our government customer really liked this employee and his work and would not like to lose him.
  • He was in a niche role and it would be very difficult to find a backfill for his position. With him gone it would be virtually impossible to train someone without his expertise.

So instead of accepting his initial resignation request, I asked if he would talk with his family and consider working part-time a few days a week on a flexible schedule. He seemed surprised by the idea since it hadn't occurred to him previously, and he readily agreed that it would be his preference. Let's look at what solutions that offered:

  • The customer got to keep him around, though as a part-time employee it would help with a more gentle transition to his successor. (win)
  • He was able to continue doing work that he enjoyed. (win)
  • I was able to find a potential backfill candidate who would be trained by this individual gradually over time, transferring much of that informal knowledge that wasn't written down anywhere. (win)

In the end it was a success for everyone involved, and I still wonder what would have happened if we hadn't broached the subject of continued employment.

It's a lesson I share because as the aging workforce continues to transition away from full-time employment, this is an option that can be incredibly valuable.

An Innovative Approach to Retaining Older Workers at CVS

While this can be approached at an individual level, it's more exciting to imagine the possibilities of this sort of program being delivered at the company level. CVS has a particularly innovative program where older workers that move south during the cold seasons of the year are offered positions that align with their lifestyle choices. Here's the snippet from the New York Times:

In one unusual effort to encourage older workers to stay, CVS Caremark offers a “snowbird” program in which several hundred pharmacists and other employees from Northern states are transferred each winter to pharmacies in Florida and other warmer states. Suzanne Fontaine, 66, a certified pharmacy technician at a CVS in Richmond, R.I., said she would have retired years ago if the company had not let her work the winter months at a CVS in Naples, Fla., where she and her husband have a second home.

Have you had any success with transitioning your older workforce away from traditional roles? What has been the impact to the business overall with regard to retaining more senior workers?

Originally published on the Brandon Hall Group blog