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Retaining Older Workers

Talented and creative workers have one unique joker in their deck. If they’re that good, no matter what the conditions are, they can find alternative jobs.

Who is it that we want to retain? It’s those people who have the option to leave–the people who have the option of exiting. Older workers oftentimes fall in this category. We don’t want them to retire because they have the cumulative knowledge, the capacity, and the skills necessary to make an organization succeed.

Shortly after 9/ll the NYC fire department, facing financial difficulties, offered an early retirement program. By solving one problem they created another. Early retirement was picked up by specific individuals who had critical knowledge and experience that was essential to moving the fire department away from its traditional structure to a model of a security-conscience agency. Similarly, in the last number of years organizations have been making similar moves. They are pushing for early retirement on one side while at the same time they desire to retain their best and their brightest.

Recently, my colleague Peter Bamberger and I received funding from Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) to analyze how job and organizational factors affect individual retirement decisions among a national probability sample of 500 older workers.

These workers, initially contacted just before becoming eligible to receive retirement benefits, provided extensive data on the nature of their jobs, their employer’s HR policies and practices, and the extent to which they felt attached and connected with others at work. One year later, when these employees became eligible for retirement we contacted them again. Of the 500 surveyed, less than 50 people left the workforce.

As we continue to follow this sample of older workers, we are going to focus on what aspects of their jobs and overall work environment predict retention. We have to ask ourselves if there is a set of shared factors that inspire older workers to keep punching in.

Some of the qualitative data collected from these and other older workers suggests that social relations with coworkers and patterns of work-based social support play a pivotal role when retirement-eligible workers make the decision to throw in the towel or not. Organizational factors that we’ve seen from our qualitative work suggests that organizations that offer more “senior-friendly” benefits such as drug discount programs, wellness programs and elder-care programs, as well as career development programs geared for older workers are likely to experience high retention rates.

Given that older workers will comprise an increasingly larger portion of American and European labor forces in the coming years it’s crucial that we understand effective organizational factors that can help employers retain retirement-eligible employees.

Picture Credit: Flickr Commons



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