People First HR Services

Aging boomers fill in blanks for employers

Colleen Coates

By postponing their retirement plans, baby boomers have delayed the looming worker shortfall and temporarily alleviated the panic to find suitable replacements for older workers trading in their briefcases for golf bags.

According to labour force statistics from the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, there has been a 35 per cent increase in the number of Canadians over the age of 55 in the last 10 years. At the same time, there has been a 25 per cent decrease in Canadians under the age of 45.

Clearly, these kinds of figures, along with Statistics Canada’s report that there were more than 300,000 Canadians aged 65 or older working as of 2001, are having a great impact on businesses across the country. From recruitment and retention efforts to how employees are motivated and rewarded, organizations in every sector must take a close look at the demographics of their workforce and identify areas requiring attention today to avoid a potential crisis tomorrow.

There is a huge opportunity for employers to benefit from employees who are choosing to stay in the workforce longer, whether out of personal need or a desire to continue working.

The economic downturn caused many Canadians to re-examine their investments and retirement savings. Those finding too small a nest egg realized they could no longer afford to leave the workplace. That isn’t uncommon. These days, it’s rare to hear of anyone achieving the Freedom 55 dream that was still within reach only a decade or two ago.

On the positive side, people are also living longer and understand the importance of a healthy, well-balanced lifestyle. As a result, feeling good gives them the option of working as long as they want. Major factors in the decision to work beyond the traditional retirement age include staying mentally active, staying physically active, being productive and helpful, as well as for the enjoyment of doing something fun.

Because the boomers are working longer and still contributing to tax revenue coffers, there is a collective sigh of relief from employers and from government agencies who have been scrambling to prepare for a mass exodus of retirees.

However, we have been so focused on plugging the gap and worrying about what it will take to attract and promote younger workers to replace the departing boomers that we haven’t spent nearly enough time planning on what to do when workers are ready to clean out their desks by age 65.

Employers, there are a number of ways to prepare your company to support employees who choose to work beyond traditional retirement age. Start by asking

— What advantages are we getting by encouraging employees to stay in the workforce longer One of the best cases for retaining boomers is that they can assist with knowledge transfer among multiple generations now present in the workplace and mentor younger workers. According to research, among the many positive traits of this generation are valuable experience, strong work ethic, loyalty and flexibility.

— How accommodating are we to the changing needs of employees Those approaching retirement and beyond may want to work in a flexible environment with shorter hours, contract work, job sharing or telecommuting options.

— How attractive are the benefits we offer All employees would gain from a benefits plan that encourages them to live well-balanced lives both at and away from work. A workplace that subsidizes fitness memberships, offers good nutritional options at lunch and supports other healthy lifestyle choices is becoming more of an expectation of workers regardless of age.

— Is our management team able to support employees of varying ages Young managers may not feel comfortable or simply don’t know how to manage employees older than themselves. At the same time, employees can struggle to get the level of support they need from a younger supervisor. Communication is key in any organization, but particularly where multiple generations are employed.

— Do the competencies of our employees suit their current roles Regardless of age, get the most out of your people by assessing their strengths from time to time. Ask individuals approaching retirement if they enjoy their job or if there is something else they want to do. Can they see themselves as a mentor, a consultant, a trainer or perhaps contributing in some other capacity that requires attention in your organization

Employees approaching retirement and beyond bring an exceptional amount of knowledge and experience to the workplace. Because there is so much the rest of the workforce can learn working alongside these people, we should encourage them to stay as long as possible instead of letting them walk out the door.

— With reporting by Barbara Chabai

Colleen Coates, CHRP, CCP, is a practice leader with People First HR Services Ltd. She can be contacted at





Shades of Grey by Eileen Kirton, Vice President, KWA Partners

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition April 2, 2011 H2