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Establishing A Competitive Edge

By: Barbara Jaworski

With Baby Boomers fast approaching retirement and a shortage of young people to replace them in the workplace, employers may need to find ways to keep people on the job longer. Barbara Jaworski, of FGI, examines some of the challenges employers face.

Did you know that every second, someone in Canada turns 50? The average age of Canadian employees is escalating at a rapid pace and the ‘retirement wave,’ as it’s been coined, will see thousands of aging baby boomers approach retirement in the next decade. Human Resources Development Canada (HRDC) estimates that approximately 41 per cent of the working population will be between the ages of 45 and 64, compared to 29 per cent in 1991. Linked to this is the somewhat remarkable fact that for the first time in history, more Canadian adults have parents who are alive and well than have children.

For Canadian organizations, the implications are significant. The face of not only the labour force, but also of the graying group within it is, changing and the way this is handled may determine the future success of an organization. Today’s older adults are very different from their counterparts of even just a decade ago, and tomorrow’s organizational winners will be the employers who recognize the potential benefits that this affords for business, productivity, retention, and for corporate citizenship.

The Changing Value Of An Older Workforce

The necessity to attract and retain mature workers goes beyond the requirements of a knowledge-based economy and the looming labour shortage crisis. The age of 49 is, for many, one of the peak years of their productivity in the workplace. Ironically, it is also the average age when workers begin to face age discrimination, an issue that needs to be addressed as aging workplaces expand. The truth is that today’s older workers bring a great deal of new value to the table that goes beyond experience and maturity.

A healthier and more active group than previously seen in this age stage, today’s seniors increasingly see their golden years not as a time to retire from active life, but rather as an opportunity to commit to a second career with passion and vigour. According to The AARP Work & Career Study,* aging workers want to continue working as well as have viable work options later in life. They are not working because they have to, but because they feel they still have a lot to offer.

From an educational point of view, for example, highly educated retirees are far more likely to choose to return to the workplace than those with lesser schooling.

As a result of this unique combination of superior education, skills, and accumulative experience, employers have multiple benefits:

A New Set Of Challenges

In order for these benefits to be realized, the unique needs of the new workforce must be addressed by employers. Most obvious are the health concerns that become prevalent as individuals begin to age. For many who are approaching retirement, financial concerns and anticipated lifestyle changes may also impact on stress levels. Many older workers are concerned about how they will be able to afford to retire. They may still have dependents to support and are increasingly likely to be caregivers. In fact, more Canadians are caring for adults today than are caring for children, bringing widespread concerns about housing, homecare, and extended care options for older family members or partners who may be ill.

For others approaching retirement, their sense of self-worth and self-esteem is strongly linked to their career. These individuals feel they have much to offer and may be considering second careers, starting small businesses, or turning hobbies into contract jobs. Planning for the future after retirement can take a great deal of time and these individuals may feel a need for increased worklife balance in order to accomplish their goals and put plans in place.

Organizations that design their workplace with these challenges in mind will be able to avoid the potential adverse consequences – such as increases in sick days; prescription drug costs; leaves of absence; and short-term disability as well as the shift from full-time to part-time work or a premature departure from the workforce altogether – faced by employers with less insight.

Building A Healthy, ‘Mature’ Workplace

In order to take advantage of the new opportunities of a ‘mature’ workplace, employers need to provide a work environment that recognizes and accommodates the needs of their new workforce. Astrong recruitment and retention strategy for mature workers will also demonstrate that the organization integrates and values these employees and expects them to be up to the challenge, building corporate citizenship all the while. Here are some suggestions for accomplishing these multiple objectives:

Some organizations may offer variations on these initiatives, including combining more flexible work options with sick day banks or expanding the eldercare offering to include coordination with homecare. Some are focusing on prevention to ‘move the culture’ and build resiliency, and are developing strategic partnerships with their work-life services partners to meet their goals. Those organizations with work-life service offerings can provide more hands-on preventive support to assist older workers in improving their coping skills. This can be accomplished by simply recognizing, for example, that employees need help negotiating the healthcare system and keeping them informed about what is available to support them. For other employers, strategic planning might begin with exploring solutions for those who want to continue working.

The Road To Retirement

Like any new road, the road to retirement can have bumps and turns along the way for both organizations and their employees. However, by providing older workers with the resources they need to make choices, and by working with their service provider to promote these initiatives internally, the journey can ultimately be a smooth one that leads to exciting new horizons. Unfortunately, few employers are ahead of the curve right now in creating workplaces that integrate and place strong emphasis on older workers.

Barbara Jaworski is director, worklife solutions and well-being, for FGI. *American Association of Retired Persons (AARP), Work & Career Study, 2002.

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