Nearly 20 percent of Americans who are 65 and older are now working, according to the most recent data from the US Bureau of Labor Statistics. That’s the largest population of employed older citizens since the 1960s, before the United States enacted Medicare. This, combined with the fact that baby boomers, or those born between 1946 and 1963, are hitting the traditional retirement age of 65 in droves, means that the United States has the largest number of older workers in its history. Normal health challenges aside, the average baby boomer is living longer and is physically capable of working longer than the average individual in prior generations.
Many baby boomers enjoy employment. More than a third of those over age 65 are still employed because they like working and want to stay involved. Many of today’s boomers are happily embracing the gig economy. A gig economy is an environment in which temporary positions are common and organizations contract with independent workers for shorter term engagements.
Boomers are also working longer is that employers want them to stay. Although age discrimination is real when it comes to hiring boomers for new jobs, those who are gainfully employed often find that they have the upper hand when it comes to retirement. As companies realize that boomers are rich in institutionalized knowledge that is difficult to replace, they are starting to offer benefits such as phased retirement programs; a way for workers to reduce the number of hours they work while phasing in retirement benefits or flex and part-time work.
Leaders still must develop more sophisticated solutions for preventing brain drain. Being more proactive with respect to retirement is a sensible first step. Analyze demographics in your geography, industry and company to determine when segments of your employee population will be retiring, and what essential skills and knowledge they will take with them.
Then, don’t just let your high performers walk out the door without an ongoing connection to the organization. Ask them about their plans, and if they’d be interested in staying on in a mentor, consultant or part-time role. If you know that someone is leaving, encourage a seamless and detailed knowledge transfer that, depending on the employee, could involve one-on-one meetings, e-documentation, wikis or video tutorials.
Want to learn more about how your organization can leverage boomer talent? Check out Alexandra Levit’s new book, Humanity Works: Merging Technologies and People for the Workforce of the Future.