- Retirement-age workers are continuing to be part of the workforce
- Boomers are as engaged at work as Gen Zers and younger millennials
- Older generations have unique preferences for recognition and development
Let’s be honest: Millennials and Gen Zers get a lot of attention in the workplace. And for good reason -- your younger workers are your future leaders. Every organization needs to grow the next generation of managers and executives if they want to survive.
But organizations are also in the middle of a tight labor market, intensified by the retirement of the largest generation in the workforce. Companies may be looking to keep their most veteran workers longer, along with their expertise, institutional knowledge and customer relationships.
At the same time, businesses may be looking to attract retirees to fill part-time or entry-level positions. Those retirees have specific wants: flexibility, social wellbeing, a sense of purpose and supplemental retirement income.
Supplemental income is an acute need for many nearing retirement today. According to Gallup’s latest survey, only 39% of nonretired Americans aged 50 to 64 think they have enough money to live comfortably in retirement. In general, nonretirees expect to rely on income sources other than Social Security, including part-time work, in retirement.
But even if older workers think they won’t have to retire soon, they may not achieve the ideal retirement age they’d hoped. The mean age at which nonretirees expect to retire is 66 years, while the actual mean age that retirees report having retired is 62.
The bottom line is that being an older worker near or after retirement is a complex transitional time in which income, identity, purpose and legacy are significant factors.
Employers looking to retain or attract older workers need to recognize that engagement isn’t just for young people. All people have a desire to thrive at work and in life, no matter their age or career stage.
So, how can employers engage older workers in ways that make sense for their career stage and life goals?
A Snapshot of Older Generation Engagement Trends
As of the end of 2022, 35% of employees in the baby boomer generation are engaged at work. That means boomers are slightly more engaged than older millennials (33%) and Gen Xers (31%) but have the same level of engagement as Gen Zers and younger millennials.
Millennials are more likely than Gen Xers or baby boomers to say they have experienced:
- someone talking to them about their progress
- opportunities for development
- opportunities to learn and grow
Gen Xers and baby boomers are more like to say they:
- know what’s expected of them
- get to do what they do best
- have the materials and equipment they need to do their work
We might generalize by saying that younger workers are experiencing a lot of change at their stage of life, while older workers are experiencing the perks of stability. Getting to do what you do best may sound simple, but it can be a deeply rewarding and satisfying part of a job.
What Older Workers Need
There are three general areas of opportunity for the engagement of older generations: development, recognition and friendship.
1. Development is different for late-career workers.
Everyone has a human need to develop, grow and change. For older workers, development may look more like developing others. Experienced employees can offer knowledge, experience and a model for success.
Developing others could look like leading a training course or providing a written account of wisdom and advice for future leaders. It could look like one-on-one mentoring or an independent project that would improve the organization over the long term.
The important thing is for employees to take ownership of their own development in a way that makes sense to them and benefits the organization.
2. Recognition looks different in retirement.
Frequent recognition is important at the start of a job or a career. Beginners want to know, “Am I doing this right?” But for experienced workers, recognition changes.
Older employees may appreciate swapping old “war stories” or storytelling that puts a lifetime of work into perspective. Recognition programs or habits that may resonate with younger workers may not invigorate older workers. Older workers may not need or want constant praise, but that doesn’t mean they don’t want to feel appreciated, admired, respected and honored. As with all employees, recognition should be personalized to be meaningful.
3. Friendships are different when you’re older.
Baby boomers and Gen Xers are less likely to say they have someone at work who cares about them and less likely to say they have a best friend at work. If they’ve been at an organization for a long time, they’ve likely seen a lot of faces change. They may feel more disconnected from individuals, even as their commitment to their organization and its values remains strong.
But those social connections remain a big part of why older people continue to work. So, it’s important for managers of older workers to support the social side of work, too. Managers should encourage friendships -- and the time those friendships take to build -- between older and younger workers.
Manage to the Individual
Reaching retirement today is complicated. Retiring employees may be dealing with multiple generations of loved ones -- older parents, children and grandchildren -- who need their care and support. Managing one’s finances and health can be complicated as well. Add to the mix adapting to a diverse, multi-generational workplace -- it’s a lot! There’s no stereotypical life; everyone has their own story.
But the workplace remains a rewarding place where many older workers and retirees can enjoy contributing their talents to something meaningful each day. By meeting the unique needs of employees at this stage of life, leaders can provide a supportive environment where every generation can thrive at work.
Grow engagement for everyone in your organization.