As the Baby Boomer generation ages, a large percentage of the workforce will consist of employees above the age of 60, so it is crucial that managers and executives know how to motivate and engage these older workers.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the 55-year-and-older age group is the fastest growing segment of the workforce. They project that by 2020 that age group will make up 28.7 percent of the population with a labor force participation rate of 43 percent. This is all just to say that employers cannot afford to ignore this population.

In a Harvard Business Review blog post, Wharton professor Peter Cappelli charges companies to better engage these older workers.

According to Cappelli, while three quarters of those approaching retirement age would like to keep working, only a quarter of them actually do.

"Something is keeping them from working, and that something is on the employer side," Cappelli writes.

The thing about older workers is that they tend to truly want to work for the sake of working, as opposed to younger workers who need to work to support themselves. Many of these older workers could retire and have enough money to sustain themselves, but they still want contribute to the world and engage with other people.

Nonetheless, employers often discriminate against older candidates, holding a bias because of their age. Employers may be averse to managing employees who have more experience, and risk losing status and control if they are younger than the job candidate. They also worry that the factors motivating younger employees--promotion, a raise, fear of being fired--don't apply to older workers who are nearing retirement age.

As long as employers can toss aside these biases and worries, Cappelli believes that hiring an older worker can in fact benefit a company, as long as they keep in mind the following best practices:

  • Acknowledge and use their experience. You can't ignore the fact that they may have more experience than you, so play it up. Even if it's just behind-the-scenes, ask them for advice before making decisions and tap into their wisdom.
  • Give them facetime with customers. Since older workers often are not in it for the money, they tend to be working for the ability to interact with other people and engage with consumers. Play into that and give them tasks that involve customer interaction.
  • Team them up with younger employees. These workers are at such different life stages, so they view each other less as competitors and more as teammates. This leads to a more cohesive and productive team.

"The bottom line is that companies looking to increase engagement, performance, and loyalty need to do a much better job of engaging this growing--and valuable--segment of the workforce," Cappelli writes. "For employers who say they want a workforce that can 'hit the ground running,' that doesn't need training or ramp-up time to figure out what to do, that will be conscientious, and that knows how to get along with others, older workers are the perfect match."

Published on: Nov 5, 2014