Today one in five the employees in the U.S. are 55 years old or older. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics this number will rise to one in four by 2022, outpacing employment growth by 500%. This is not new; it’s a trend which has been long in the making. However, predicting the impacts of this change and other shifts in work force demographics has proven to be an elusive challenge for employers.
We are faced with 5 generations within the workforce — Generation Z just entered the workforce and baby boomers as well as a small percentage of traditionalists are still working. Each has unique expectations and preferences in how they approach their work lives. The challenge to provide what’s necessary for workers with diverse profiles is not going to change any time soon, and one group that surfaces to the forefront is older employees who are continuing their careers longer than expected in search of financial security and an opportunity to stay active and engaged in the work place.
What do older workers want?
From a career perspective, older employees are focused more on roles that provide them with a sense of purpose and fulfillment, while at the same time allowing for better balance between their personal and working lives. However, current HR programs don’t always align to employee preferences, and some even work counterproductively to penalize workers for their career and personal choices.
Take rewards for employees working reduced schedules, for example. Older workers are often motivated to work full time, when their primary objective is to phase into retirement. A one-size- fits-all approach to program design may well leave us with one program that doesn’t really “fit” anyone.
To find flexibility, employees are often stuck navigating a maze of HR programs in order to juggle jobs, family and personal ambitions. However, employers can assist in this balancing act, by acknowledging the different career stages in an employee’s lifecycle and aligning rewards programs to each phase.
Take John, for example.
John was a star performer at Company X. He joined the organization right out of school and quickly moved up the ranks. Company X recognized the need to nourish John’s talent, particularly since John focused constantly on his professional and personal growth. Let’s call this Phase I of John’s career.
After some years, John decided that in order to spur further growth, he needed a change of scenery. He moved abroad with a competitor and took on a managerial role. John’s new employer groomed him for senior management over the years, moving him around in finance, operations and sales. In a span of 10 years, John became a VP. Let’s call this Phase II of John’s career.
John continued in his role as VP for a couple of years. Then came a time when his personal life became more of a priority and he wanted to find balance. John reduced his working hours to part-time to spend more time with his family and work on his golf game.
Concurrently, John began to recognize the talents of his colleagues. A bright new employee joined his team and he was impressed with her clear-cut thinking and ambition. He enjoyed advising her career and watching her grow as a professional and an individual. Let’s call this Phase III of John’s career.
This short example illustrates how John’s career was guided by the events of his life, and how his focus shifted from professional growth, to mentoring, to coaching and succession management. He achieved his own balance and maintained a sense of fulfillment through his work. Let’s call this John’s ideal career.
Did John accomplish his ideal career all by himself? Most opportunities came with hard work, ambition and talent, but the support of his employer and rewards allowed John to act on his career choices.
- Phase I focused on a solid base salary and different learning opportunities
- Phase II focused on management, leadership training and performance-based rewards
- Phase III allowed John to work part-time, assuming a formal coaching role to nourish up-and-coming talent within the organization—all the while, giving him the option to focus on his personal life, continue to build retirement savings and provide his family with great healthcare options.
HR programs and our conventional thinking about linear, hierarchical career paths need to change. Career path alternatives need to be built for both the short- and long-term, and employees need to understand their options, as well as the opportunities at each juncture. HR programs should align to these new career paths by acknowledging employees from a talent and career perspective.
Organizations that dare to challenge conventional thinking and adapt reward programs to support the new career reality will gain competitive advantages of four generations of talent being engaged in their workforce. The demographics are in their favor.
Guest blogger Jorn Janssens is part of Willis Towers Watson’s Rewards consulting practice based in the Brussels, working for clients across the EMEA region. He advises clients on broad-based talent and rewards challenges.
Guest Blogger Raed Alyamani is part of Willis Towers Watson’s Rewards consulting practice based in Dubai. He works with clients to develop broad-based rewards solutions.
Guest Blogger Adam Goldstein is part of Willis Towers Watson’s Rewards consulting practice, based in Chicago. He works with clients across a wide range of industries in developing sales compensation and broad-based rewards solutions.