How HR teams can thrive in the era of an aging workforce

The era of the aging workforce is upon us, and it’s advancing faster than you’d think. Currently, one in four Australians are over 55, and within a decade, that number will be one in three. And if the government has anything to do with it, it will likely increase further soon as they legislate to increase the age pension from 67 to 70.

An ageing workforce presents some challenges, but just as many opportunities for HR. Here are our top four tips on how to best manage an aging workforce:

Explore options that aren’t redundancy

Mature staff are amongst the most valuable to companies of all employees. Firstly, study after study shows that they are extremely reliable and productive. Secondly, they hold decades of experience and wisdom within their heads that can’t be sourced elsewhere. And finally, although they may not necessarily be interested in career advancement, they (most of the time) still very much want to contribute – perhaps just not in the same full-time capacity they always have.

Despite this, many companies consider older workers to be more of a hindrance than a value add. Thought to be ‘stuck at the top,’ mature staff are often offered abrupt redundancies with no opportunity to even discuss retirement options. And when this happens? No one wins. But in fact, businesses lose more.

By not offering transition to retirement options, businesses fail to realise the value from their mature workforce. To realise this value, a much better option for companies is to provide a transition to retirement program for their aging workforce. Through a program, businesses can help facilitate knowledge transfer while at the same time enabling their mature workers to continue to contribute in a capacity that suits them.

Make retirement a (long) transition

More often than not, older workers are thinking (and planning!) for retirement years before they think about an actual end date, but for fear of being perceived as less committed, they may not want to bring it up with HR or management. Yet despite this, many retirement programs are only offered in the year leading up to retirement – to the great detriment of the staff involved.

Sudden retirement is far from ideal, in fact, it can have devastating consequences. Depression after retirement is a well-chronicled phenomenon, and for many people the cause of it is the sudden change of lifestyle that retirement brings, along with the loss of a sense-of-purpose, routine, and social circles.

For these reasons, a true transition program should be offered for anything up to 5 years prior to an actual end date. This time will enable the employees involved to find purpose, routines and friends elsewhere, and to contribute to the company while they are still willing and able.

Embrace flexible working

Research shows that many in the aging workforce would welcome more flexible work options, yet many businesses don’t offer this.

Older employees working flexibly can be so beneficial to the individual and the company alike. Not only can flexible work options, such as job-share, facilitate critical knowledge-transfer, but it can also help boost productivity and engagement all-round.

Provide holistic support

Retirement is so much more than stopping working, and employees within the aging workforce need holistic support to help manage this.

Transition to retirement plans should ideally include financial, social and wellbeing elements. These could be many and varied – for example, connecting employees with skilled volunteering opportunities, combined with part-time work options and financial planning. Ideally, employees could plan their transition activities according to their individual needs and preferences.

The aging workforce is often described as a burden on HR – but it absolutely doesn’t need to be. In fact, HR, older workers and businesses can all equally benefit from transition to retirement programs, so employees can ease into retirement while still adding value to the company, and so HR and businesses can ensure they facilitate the transfer of critical skills from some of their most valuable outgoing staff.  

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