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Employers and Workers Disagree on Being ‘Too Old’ to Work

    Aging-friendly workplaces take steps to promote inclusion of older employees

    By Stephen Miller, CEBS

    Many employees plan to work past age 65, but will their employers help them to do so?

    In many cases perhaps not, as employers and workers don't agree about how friendly the workplace is to older employees, according to a new study from the nonprofit Transamerica Center for Retirement Studies (TCRS). Among the key findings:

    82 percent of employers said their company is supportive of its employees' working past 65, while just 72 percent of workers agree that their employer is supportive.

    Among those who provided a specific age, employers most commonly considered age 70 too old to work, a finding at odds with the age 75 given by workers.

    Asked what age is too old to hire, employers said age 64.

    The study report was released Aug. 21. The findings are based on responses received last fall from more than 1,800 employers with five or more employees and from 6,372 workers.

    "Many workers now want and need to extend their working lives to financially prepare for longer retirements, but they need support from their employers, which they are not yet getting," said Catherine Collinson, CEO and president of TCRS.

    A multigenerational workforce "can enhance diversity and inclusivity, and foster innovation," Collinson added. "By not adopting business practices that can support workers of all ages, employers are missing out on an important opportunity."

    And yet, "even people able and willing to work long into retirement may not be welcomed by employers," wrote Reuters columnist Gail MarksJarvis last month. "About 60 percent of those who lose their job end up retiring involuntarily because they cannot get replacement jobs, according to the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College research."

    Inclusion challenges can also be present in the ways that older and younger colleagues interact. For instance, an HR professional recently noted on the Society for Human Resource Management's SHRM Connect discussion board (accessible by SHRM members) that open-office workspaces, where social banter can flow more freely, can cause older workers to feel more like outsiders, given that their lives and everyday interests may differ from those of their younger co-workers.


    Common Stereotypes

    Many employers and workers cited negative perceptions of older workers, such as their being less open to learning and new ideas, TCRS found.

    However, the SHRM Foundation, a nonprofit affiliate of the Society for Human Resource Management, concluded in a 2014 report, "Most mature workers are highly receptive to skills training opportunities, especially for skills that are directly job-related. Many mature workers are already strong performers and use their existing skills and experience to expedite the learning process."

    Additional research findings are available from the SHRM Foundation's Aging Workforce inititive.

    Persistent Discrimination

    In June, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) issued a report on age discrimination, finding that although it has been 50 years since passage of the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA), age discrimination is still a significant problem. "Despite decades of research finding that age does not predict ability or performance, employers often fall back on precisely the ageist stereotypes the ADEA was enacted to prohibit," the report stated.

    The EEOC noted that 6 in 10 older workers have seen or experienced age discrimination in the workplace, and 90 percent of older workers said that age discrimination is common. These findings are from a September 2017 AARP survey of 3,900 adults age 45 or older, either working or looking for work.

    The EEOC recommended strategies to prevent biases from entering HR practices. For instance, "one significant but often overlooked strategy is to include age in diversity and inclusion programs and efforts," the EEOC stated.

    Just 23 percent of employers have adopted a formal diversity and inclusion policy statement that specifically includes age among the demographics used to promote inclusion through management training and other steps, according to the TCRS report.

    Other EEOC suggestions included:

    Providing career counseling, training and development opportunities to workers at all ages and at all stages of their careers.

    Encouraging mixed-age and reverse-age mentoring, which can increase worker productivity and satisfaction.

    Making available flexible work options that can provide work/life balance as needed by employees at various times in their careers. Older workers, for instance, may have caregiving responsibilities for an ailing spouse or partner.

    Phased Retirement Programs Lacking

    Only 20 percent of employers offer a formal, phased retirement program with specific provisions for employees who want to transition into retirement, TCRS found. In contrast, 47 percent of workers envision a phased transition by either reducing work hours or working in a different capacity that is less demanding or brings greater personal satisfaction. Often, they are willing to accept lower pay to do so.

    "Increasingly now and in the future, the lines between employment and retirement are going to become almost imperceptible," and HR will be challenged with finding ways to respond, such as by offering opportunities for employees to phase into retirement, said Jack Towarnicky, executive director at the nonprofit Plan Sponsor Council of America.