More than a billion people around the world are over the age of 60. In the United States, employees are choosing—for a variety of reasons—to work longer and delay retirement. As people live longer and birth rates fall, we’re faced with aging unlike we’ve ever seen before. What does that mean for businesses?
According to Paul Irving, chairman of the Milken Institute Center for the Future of Aging, companies need to have long-term plans in place for aging and retiring employees.
Irving says companies need to figure out ways to continue to engage the older generation in the workforce. So much emphasis is placed on training and engaging young employees, when in reality, older employees are more likely to stick around the company. The return on investing in development programs for older employees is the same, if not higher, as investing in programs for younger employees.
“Old people bring balance, judgment, wisdom, and experience,” Irving says. “They understand how to execute projects, not just dream them up, but get them done. Because of their experience, they have cross-sectoral problem-solving skills.”
Ageism is also a growing problem. Older generations tend to face overwhelming stereotypes that they aren’t willing to learn and evolve. In many cases, they are infantilized with the idea that they couldn’t possibly want to use technology or new products. Although that may be true for some older employees, many are tech-savvy and eager to keep learning.
Irving says some of the most successful companies embrace unique characteristics of both old and young generations. Both groups have big things to offer, and mentoring can go both ways. Younger employees can teach older employees about technology and creativity, while older employees can teach their younger counterparts about hard work and their experiences in the industry.
The number of employees getting older and retiring isn’t going to slow down anytime soon. Every company needs to have a longevity strategy for its changing workforce. According to Irving, companies that aren’t thinking long term about the realities of changing age demography are missing the boat and will ultimately lose.
Many companies have already implemented strategies to embrace the aging generation. CVS has a Snowbird program where older workers can choose to spent their winters up north or down south in warmer temperatures. Michelin is bringing back retirees to mentor younger workers about timeless business principles.
Demographics are changing, and companies should change right alongside. Embracing aging can help companies stay on top of trends and take advantage of older generations that are still eager to contribute.
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