Why HR is out of step with the over 50s

Written by
Carina Paine Schofield

18 Feb 2016

18 Feb 2016 • by Carina Paine Schofield

HR is falling out of kilter with the needs and wants of older workers. Increasingly, HR is failing to fulfil the potential of this important ‘Baby Boomer’ generation and findings show that HR has a tendency to focus on retirement planning, rather than helping older workers use their skills and expertise for the benefit of the business.

As a result, older employees – many of whom have up to another 20 years left to work – feel they are effectively being shoved in the corner and are frustrated and demotivated by not being able to develop their careers, contribute to business growth and pass their valuable knowledge and insights onto younger workers.

Older worker skills

The skills and contribution of older workers plays an important part in a country’s economy. The 50 plus age-group is predicted to represent one third of the working population by 2020. Maximising the potential of these Baby Boomers is clearly vital for organisations that want to thrive and grow, but the research suggests there is a real mismatch between what over 50s want from work and the way they are portrayed, managed and valued within the business.

The survey of 2,000 plus over 50s, as well as HR staff working in organisations that employ Baby Boomers, showed that older workers want interesting work, a sense of achievement, pride and being able to leave a legacy. They are still ambitious, want challenging jobs and are hungry for continued growth and career development.
HR professionals, however, together with managers across the wider business, are more focused on developing the younger generations to fulfill their potential, with older workers often overlooked when it comes to training.

The research also highlights the fact that HR and older workers see training and development in a very different light. Only 1% of HR respondents, for example, felt older workers needed career development, while Baby Boomers themselves were hungry for development that would help them take up new job opportunities, shift into more strategic roles or develop portfolio careers.

The report suggests a number of practical actions organisations could take to help over 50s maximize their contribution and continue to thrive at work.  These include taking a more individual and informal approach to career discussions, introducing coaching and mentoring initiatives and exploring options for older workers to get involved in advisory roles or special projects.

Seven questions to ask about your mature workforce

It also raises a number of questions HR people need to ask themselves to make sure they are doing everything they can to really get the best out of this core group of employees

  1. Is there a genuine desire in the business to maximise the potential of Baby Boomers?
  2. Have there been conversations at senior level about the value older workers bring to the business?
  3. Do senior leaders understand the business case for investing in the development of over 50s?
  4. Do we know what proportion of our staff fall into the over 50 age bracket?  Have we factored this in to our succession planning?
  5. What are we doing in the organisation to share knowledge and experience between different generations?
  6. What opportunities are there in the business for older workers to contribute to strategic projects or growth or diversification initiatives?
  7. What do we need to do to create a culture where Baby Boomers feel valued and motivated?