Zoomers and the new retirement

Zoomers are not a group of people who, on turning 65, are likely to simply collect their gold watches and spend the rest of their days puttering around on the golf course.

“As more people live longer, healthier lives, they are working beyond the traditional retirement age,” says Susan Eng, vice president of Advocacy for CARP. “For many, the issue is not so much the end of working, but the transition to a more satisfying career and the exploration of new possibilities. And frankly, for some people, continuing to work is an economic necessity.”

Whether because of financial necessity or a desire to remain engaged, the redefinition of retirement by the baby boom generation and those 50+ can only be good news for an economy facing a shrinking workforce with fewer younger workers to fill the gap.

For employers, the anticipated labour shortage is not simply a matter of finding enough younger workers to replace people who will eventually retire – but also finding people with the same skill-sets of more experienced workers. Zoomers who leave the workplace take their knowledge with them and this type of knowledge honed by experience cannot be easily replaced by younger workers.

So what can companies do to retain their Zoomer workers? “First of all, an employer should provide rewarding work that levers a worker’s knowledge and experience in an age-discrimination free work environment,” Eng says. “And as some Zoomers look to make lifestyle changes, flexibility in working conditions such as part-time, seasonal and telecommuting can also be attractive to workers.”

In fact, according to a 2002 Statistics Canada survey, over a quarter of retired people say they may have changed their decision to retire if they had been able to reduce their work schedule without their pension being affected, either by working fewer or shorter days.

And a 2008 Ipsos Reid poll shows that shorter work weeks, flexible hours and extended healthcare benefits are key for recruiting and keeping older workers. The online survey of 2,052 Canadians age 55 and older reveals the top factor for retaining mature workers is extended health benefits, followed by flexible work hours and a guaranteed wage or salary. Nearly half of those polled said they couldn’t afford to retire, 42 per cent said they want to stay active and mentally alert and 24 per cent enjoy the social aspects of working. 21 per cent love their job and don’t want to retire.

The retention race

A 2005 study by AARP shows that older workers are motivated to exceed expectations on the job more than their younger counterparts, and that the benefits of retaining older workers can exceed the incremental costs for compensation and benefits.

And a delayed retirement can also mean savings for the pension plan. “In some cases people retiring today have longer retirements than they ever worked – so delaying retirement actually has a positive effect on the pension plan because pension payout is delayed,” Eng says.

Despite the obvious benefits of retaining Zoomer workers, a recent Manpower survey shows 67 per cent of Canadian employers don’t even have a strategy in place to recruit or retain workers aged 50+. And only 24 per cent have implemented retention strategies to keep them participating in the workforce.

According to Manpower’s “Confronting the Talent Crunch: 2008” employers need to find innovative ways to prolong an individual’s active working life. This could mean redesigning jobs, creating more attractive retention policies and fostering a more inclusive work environment.

“Employers can no longer look at upcoming retirements as cost-saving opportunities – this is dangerous and short sighted,” the report said.

Some employers are also offering retirees options to transition to less stressful and time-consuming roles, such as sharing their institutional knowledge and training new generations in the skills they have acquired. This could take the form of documenting important information, processes and business contacts or creating a mentoring program where the departing worker can coach his or her successor.

And according to a survey “Ageism: Managing on the Bias” by Age Lessons, a US-based think-tank and consulting firm, companies should:

– Fight age-discrimination in the workplace by providing awareness training about generational differences, office and meeting etiquette;

– Adopt age-neutral hiring and educational policies that look at the candidate pool irrespective of age;

– Form intergenerational work teams to ensure cross-pollination across age groups; and

– Extend continuing and professional educational opportunities to older workers.

The bottom line: When older employees leave, companies lose vital expertise and knowledge that is not easily filled by younger workers. But this gap can be minimized if companies make an effort to retain mature workers by providing: the right mix of benefits and financial incentives, a meaningful and rewarding work environment, continuing opportunity for education and career-growth and flexibility in work conditions.

About Zoomers

The Zoomer group – Canadians 45 and older – represents over 14 million people in Canada. Zoomers account for more than half of all consumer spending and 70 per cent of all money in savings account.

Zoomers are the largest market for a number of industries, including travel, real estate, health and beauty, automotive, home renovation and financial services.


Boomers working longer