The graying worker Featured

11:07am EDT June 30, 2006
The median age of the domestic work force is rising steadily while at the same time, the rate of new entrants to the work force continues to decline. As fewer and fewer new workers enter the labor pool, employers will become increasingly dependent on the mature work forceaged 50 or older. This has significant implications for employers and how they recruit, manage and optimize the graying work force, according to Steve Wajda, district director at Spherion Corp.

“As the Spherion Emerging Work Force Studies illustrate, employers who are not focusing on this issue will face serious challenges in attracting skilled workers in the future,” he says. “Savvy employers realize they need to reconsider their current recruiting, development and employee retention strategies in order to maximize the talents, loyalty and stability of mature workers.” (Spherion Emerging Work force Studies are conducted periodically by Harris Interactive, a world-renowned market research firm.)

Smart Business spoke with Wajda about how the maturing work force affects the workplace and how employers can best accommodate older employees.

How do companies benefit from a maturing work force?
Mature workers can invigorate and improve business through lower turnover as well as increased loyalty, stability, experience and leadership. Our research reveals that 55 percent of mature workers are likely to stay with an employer for at least the next five years, as compared to 43 percent of workers aged 49 or younger. Also, when it comes to loyalty to colleagues, managers and employers, mature workers are more likely to rate themselves as ‘very loyal’ than younger workers. Mature workers also offer stability in an era where younger employees have grown comfortable with job-hopping.

Mature workers bring decades of work experience and industry expertise to their jobs. Their skills can be called upon in teaching and mentoring younger workers, analyzing and improving processes, and building a strong foundation of company knowledge.

What are the implications for recruiting and hiring practices?
Employers must first cast a wider net to ensure they are reaching mature candidates. Job boards and classified ads may not be as effective as professional associations, professional recruiting firms and community organizations. There’s also a growing pipeline of experienced managers taking on project work and other flexible or temporary assignments as a bridge to their retirement. These workers can offer depth and breadth of experience and proven leadership skills — while also giving employers more flexibility in structuring their permanent work force and associated payroll.

How can companies best manage mature workers?
The key to success in managing mature workers is flexibility. While not all mature workers are planning immediate retirement, many have already achieved their core career goals and are starting to move into the final stages of their careers. They’re looking for new and different opportunities to contribute, or for ways to achieve better balance between their professional and personal lives. Trends we’re seeing are a desire for reduced job-related travel, less pressure and a better work/life balance.

How can employers effectively tap this resource?
First, employers can provide mature workers with the flexibility to cut back time in the office, or work from home or part-time. Working fewer hours and telecommuting are often viewed as well-deserved rewards for years of service.

Secondly, employers should recognize that mature workers often find it extremely rewarding to apply their knowledge and experience to completely new functions, and are often happy to move laterally within an organization. Upward advancement, typically, is not their driving force.

Remember that mature workers are just as interested in learning, gaining new skills and increasing their contribution as younger workers. If employers don’t see their mature workers as high-potential contributors, they will notice — and the results will be evident in their job satisfaction, productivity and loyalty.

How can a company devise a work force transition plan that recognizes this new reality?
Most companies link compensation to tenure or experience. They tend to fill lower-level positions with the youngest workers and pay less compared to more experienced levels. However, the reality is that there are plenty of senior, experienced people who are willing to take entry- or lower-level jobs that will enable them to ease into retirement or continue to work while collecting pensions, accruing retirement savings, etc. Forward-looking companies will sponsor initiatives in recognition of this trend — they’ll update their current thinking and adjust their HR hiring, compensation, and benefits models accordingly while removing the traditional ceilings tied to experience and compensation.

STEVE WAJDA Steve Wajda is a district director at Spherion Corp. Reach him at (813) 623-6399 or