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Mission Possible: Keeping Boomers in the Workforce

Rachel Zupek, writer

For 20 years, Rick Wilcox worked 70 hours per week and traveled 90 per cent of the time. He had no time for family or community activities. Even on the weekends, he was too tired to enjoy the little time he did have at home. He was burned out.
Then he found Jefferson Wells, a professional services firm based in Wisconsin. Now, there is rarely a night he misses dinner with his family.
“I knew I needed a change in my lifestyle,” Wilcox, 47, says. “I am now able to compartmentalize my work life and my home life, making it easier to leave problems at the office. I still work a full workweek, but it translates to fewer hours due to less travel time. This has given me more time with my wife, kids and grandkids, which means more to me than anything else.
Wilcox, managing director of the Houston and Austin, Texas offices of Jefferson Wells, says that now he has balanced his work and personal life, there is no rush to retire.
“Retirement used to be more about returning to my family than it was about quitting work. Now I realize that I can actually have a very fulfilling, challenging career while still spending time with my family,” Wilcox says. “It is possible to have it all.”
As many baby boomers (those born between 1946 and 1964) like Wilcox approach retirement age, they’re deciding they aren’t ready for the green pastures of retirement. Yet few employers are implementing retention and recruiting strategies to reach out to them, according to new research from Manpower Inc., an employment services company.
Merely 18 per cent of U.S. employers have a strategy to recruit older workers; while only 28 per cent of survey respondents reported having a strategy to retain workers past retirement age, according to the Manpower survey. With boomers comprising more than one-third of the U.S. workforce and the lack of younger workers to replace them, why aren’t employers seeking to retain the talent that already exist in older workers?
“There is a real contradiction occurring in hiring trends right now,” says Melanie Holmes, vice president of corporate affairs for Manpower — North America. “Employers acknowledge that they are having trouble finding qualified candidates to fill open positions, but we are learning that they need help implementing programs that are tailored to older workers. With the first wave of baby boomers on the cusp of traditional retirement age, there is still time to engage a generation that is willing and able to continue working.”
Though boomers want to continue working, employers perceive cost and productivity as primary issues when it comes to hiring them, according to Manpower’s research.
“Business-savvy employers are right to consider the time and money that goes into establishing retention and recruiting programs aimed at older workers,” Holmes says. “However, to make a fully informed decision, the business impact of unfilled positions and the value of the knowledge and productivity that mature professionals offer must also be weighed. Even though it may require extra effort, employers are likely to come out ahead in the return on investment.”
Aside from gaining financially, there are other benefits to incorporating older workers in the labour force.
Not only are they available to work and their numbers are increasing, elder workers have accumulated knowledge about their jobs, companies and about life in general, which may also make them more efficient and productive, Holmes says.
“Many studies have shown that mature workers have a better work ethic,” Holmes says. “That means they are loyal, reliable, show up on time, act professionally, pay attention to task, have perseverance, good work habits and are emotionally mature. They are generally good at those soft skills that are so important in the contemporary workplace.”
Modern employers, like Jefferson Wells, that include older workers as part of their talent strategy have found success with programs that attract the wants and needs of the workers. Companies considering retention and recruiting programs that appeal to older workers should explore successful practices such as training programs, flexible scheduling options, job redesigns and/or targeted recruiting strategies, according the survey.
“Employers who respond to the aging workforce will fare better in the competition for talent and find that they benefit from a richer, more diverse workforce,” Holmes says. “The key is to start planning now for future talent needs.”
Are you a baby boomer looking to expand your employment beyond retirement age? Holmes offers these tips to those looking to…
Achieve career success
  • Keep skills up-to-date and keep learning.
  • Be flexible and creative.
Find rewarding work
  • Call an employment services company.
  • Be open to all options, including consulting, mentoring and volunteering.
Decide how to retire
  • Ask yourself if you’re ready — mentally and financially — to retire. Do you want to go cold turkey or ease into it?
  • Consult with a variety of sources — your employer, your family, your financial advisor, etc.
Rachel Zupek is a writer and blogger for She researches and writes about job search strategy, career management, hiring trends and workplace issues.

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