Providing flex options to older workers yields strategic benefits

A report by the Sloan Center on Aging & Work at Boston College points to wide-ranging flexible workplace options that can retain older workers, tap into the experience of retired workers and help employers fill skills and knowledge gaps. Success is dependent, though, on matching flexibility initiatives with the needs of employers and their older employees.

The report, "Flex Strategies to Attract, Engage & Retain Older Workers," released in March 2012, contains case studies of three employers to show how they use flexibility initiatives strategically. The report cited U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that project that from 2008 to 2018 labor force participation by workers age 55 and older is expected to increase by 43% while participation by those ages 16 to 24 is expected to decrease.

“Now is a critical time for us to understand the issues affecting older workers and their employers,” said Sloan Employer Engagement Specialist Samantha Greenfield. “The leading edge of the Baby Boom generation has already reached traditional retirement age. At the same time, our country’s economic challenges have forced many of these older works to extend their work-retirement horizon.”

The report found that the employers in its case studies used a variety of flexibility initiatives. Offering part-time positions, hiring retirees as consultants and temporary workers and offering flexible work arrangements are among the most commonly used strategies with older or retired workers.

The case studies examine Marriott, Central Baptist Hospital and MITRE Corp.

Among the initiatives at Marriott:

• Redesigning the work process by pairing a younger employee with an older one; teaming up for specific tasks; and categorizing tasks according to the physicality involved, such as reaching and bending to clean under beds.

• Cross-training workers so they can pick up shifts in other areas. This helps older workers develop new skills without a major job change.

• Providing job rotations so that a person working in laundry might cross-train as a lobby attendant and work there two days a week.

• Making downtime without pay available to workers in reservations centers when things are slow. They may take longer breaks, work shorter shifts, leave early or take extra days off. This is offered informally to hotel staff during slow periods, too, according to the report.

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Kathy Gurchiek is associate editor for HR News.