The Silver Tsunami: Are Talented Professionals Flooding Into — or Out of — Your Business?

With the Great Recession safely behind us, baby boomers are retiring more rapidly — and taking critical knowledge with them.

We know that roughly 17 percent of baby boomers now report that they are retired, up from 10 percent in 2010. To add to this statistic, by 2030, all baby boomers will be 65 or older.

But on the flip side, a majority of today's employees expect to work beyond the traditional retirement age of 65. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the 55-and-older demographic will make up about one-quarter of our nation's workforce by 2022.

Without question, mature professionals can benefit your business in a number of ways:

  • They’re focused. With decades of experience under their belt, these professionals aren't typically searching for the next big opportunity to advance their career. When they commit to an employer, they have a clear understanding of what they want to accomplish — and focus on getting the job done.
  • They’re loyal. Research from Pew indicates that 54 percent of workers ages 65 and older say they are “completely satisfied with their jobs,” compared with just 29 percent of workers ages 16 to 64. Because mature workers are generally more satisfied at work, they tend to stay longer.
  • They’re experienced leaders. Having worked during a time before business interactions turned digital (and impersonal), older professionals are adept at the art of face-to-face communication — a critical leadership skill that many of their younger counterparts tend to lack.
  • They have extensive professional networks. With more time in the workforce, mature professionals have had the opportunity to meet more people, build their network and forge strong business relationships.

And the latest research from the Society for Human Resource Management shows that workers in the 50 and older age category also offer other significant advantages:

  • 77 percent of employers say older employees have more knowledge and skills than younger employees.
  • 71 percent say they are more professional.
  • 63 percent cite them as good mentors.

With all of the benefits this demographic brings — knowledge, experience, loyalty and more — you’d think employers would be tripping over themselves to implement policies that attract, engage and retain them. But according to the SHRM survey cited above, fewer than 1 in 4 HR professionals believe the impending loss of mature talent will be a problem.

My opinion? The majority is going to regret their nonchalance.

Skills shortages are increasing. Recruiting is becoming more difficult. Mature professionals have a ton to offer, and they will continue to play a vital role in our nation's workforce.

These are the realities of our world of work. So here's the question: Will your organization leverage the “silver tsunami,” or will talented, mature workers flood out of your organization?

Make sure it's the former! Use these tips to attract, engage, retain and maximize the value of mature professionals:

Challenge negative or stereotypical thinking. Strengthen intergenerational ties and combat silver-haired clichés by creating cross-generational mentoring, job shadowing and training opportunities. By allowing older employees to share their experiences, while facilitating upward knowledge transfer from younger employees, you can:

  • Dispel negative stereotypes.
  • Foster a culture of mutual respect.
  • Build interpersonal connections.
  • Turn potential adversaries into allies.

Improve their technology skills. Contrary to popular belief, mature professionals welcome challenge and continual learning. Provide training opportunities to senior employees to close tech skills gaps, boost confidence and make this demographic even more valuable to your organization.

Address the specific needs of older workers. Like any demographic, this group requires sensitivity and diligence from HR to address their unique needs. For example, they may require hours away from work to care for aging parents or additional time off to recover from injuries.

Provide reasonable accommodations. Consider tweaking or redesigning jobs to make them physically and psychologically suitable for employees of any age.

Offer greater work flex. Study after study shows that today’s senior employees seek flexible work options — alternate schedules, compressed work weeks, part-time work and telecommuting — and prefer a gradual transition to retirement. In a nutshell, older workers want to stay in the workforce, but generally prefer to work fewer hours. Give them the flexibility they need, and they’ll give you even more in return.