New research by a Sydney-based micro-economist has identified marked growth in the workforce participation rate of women in their 50s and 60s – not because of a love of working, but because they don’t have enough cash to retire.
Women are both staying in their jobs longer and returning to work after realising their retirement was not yet viable, consultant Carolyn Evans said. “We asked a series of women in that age group why they were working and almost without exception … they had to come back to work, or they were going to retire and when they did the numbers they realised didn't have enough to live on,” she said. According to the researcher, many women interviewed were going back to work in 'top up super' mode”.
The good news for HR is that there is a strong source of experienced talent flowing into the market, though Evans warned that because many women in this age category are being financially forced to re-enter the workforce, specialised engagement tactics for this sector are required. “Those we spoke to across the board largely were making a positive and willing choice to work part time or casual instead of full time, not wanting to commit to all the weight of another full-time role,” Evans added.
SageCo, a specialist agency which partners with organisations to address the risks, challenges and opportunities of an ageing workforce, has data which adds weight to the sentiment that the older workforce wants to work flexibly, and is not simply resentful or longing to retire.
Alison Monroe from SageCo said data recently assembled from the opinions of 2,500 workers aged 50+ indicated that older employees want to stay employed, but under flexible working conditions. She said overwhelmingly their studies have shown that if older workers feel valued, they generally want to remain employed either on a full-time non-fixed-hour working week, part-time or under other flexible work scenarios.
On the 2010/2011 data, 81% stated they would continue to work if they could work differently. “The problem is that the conversation is not taking place,” Monroe said.
It is essential for leaders to be talking to the mature members of the team and gauging their future work intentions rather than their ‘retirement intentions’, which sends the wrong message. Given some 300,000 Australians past the age of 65 are in the workforce, Monroe said, HR can do many things to specifically enhance engagement among older workers, namely:
1. Have ‘the conversation’: It is important to equip leaders with skills and capabilities to have conversations with older workers about their career path intentions. Leaders often fear addressing the topic, but it’s important to stress future working intentions not retirement. These conversations should be taking place regardless of age.
2. Improve flexibility: Flexibility means something different to each individual. Some prefer certain days of each week, while others prefer certain months of each year. Many are interested in mobile work options, so these should be investigated.
3. Look at job re-design: Working differently doesn’t just refer to working hours. Older workers really want to focus in on their areas of expertise. They may want to get back into their original areas of interest, such as why they went into particular lines of work in the first place.
4. Share their skills: SageCo said it has discovered that the older generation wants the opportunity to share their skills, experience and knowledge. Ways to do so can be very simple. For example, a knowledge sharing breakfast or simply putting 10 minutes on the agenda for specific input at meetings. Some simple knowledge-sharing techniques can really help engagement levels.
5. Have processes to assist transitions: Employers know that employees are overwhelmingly underprepared for retirement. Organisations should invest time in helping to plan and act on issues relating to transition. Specific focus areas include career direction and development, health and wellbeing, improving financial literacy and a work/life plan.
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