Canadian CEOs more focused on older workers than global counterparts: Survey

Top bosses recognize mature employees bring valuable experience, loyalty
By Amanda Silliker
|Canadian HR Reporter|Last Updated: 07/18/2011

Canadian CEOs are focusing more on older workers than their global counterparts. Sixty per cent of Canadian CEOs plan to increasingly recruit and retain older employees, compared to just 42 per cent globally, found a survey by PwC.

“Canada generally has a group of employees that can leave often when they hit 55… and we’re seeing, in some cases, up to 45 per cent of that group retiring in the next five years, so there’s a real recognition we need to figure out ways to keep them in the workforce longer and take advantage of their expertise,” said Ellen Corkery-Dooher, PwC’s national people and change leader based in Ottawa.

This focus on older workers is in part explained by the challenges with hiring and keeping people under 30. Seventy-five per cent of Canadian CEOs expect challenges in recruiting and integrating younger workers, compared to just 54 per cent of their global counterparts, found the survey of 1,201 CEOs worldwide (40 of which were from Canada).

“Canadian employers are realizing it’s quite an investment to recruit, develop and retain people and even if you can attract the new generation, the investment you have to make before they’re fully up to speed is fairly significant, but (with mature employees) they’ve already made that investment,” said Corkery-Dooher.

A large percentage of BMO Bank of Montreal’s 46,000 employees are experienced workers, said Lynn Roger, senior vice-president of talent strategies and executive resourcing at the organization. This is largely due to a strong commitment to individual learning that helps BMO retain a lot of its experienced employees, she said.

“We don’t stop investing in people’s development. Combining career-challenging opportunities with ongoing learning and development, that’s some of the top reasons why some of our more experienced individuals stay,” said Roger. “There is a kind of sense of, ‘ I’m receiving and so I need to give back.’”

BMO’s mentoring program is another way the organization retains older workers. Individuals five or 10 years away from retirement are classified based on their expertise in a particular area and they are available to share and transfer their knowledge to new up-and-comers, she said.

“Individuals that have opportunities to do that sort of thing, like mentoring for example, they feel pretty darn great,” said Roger. “The reason they do that is we’re leveraging their experience in a new way, so instead of doing (they’re) now teaching and coaching and everybody wins in that kind of scenario.”

BMO’s flexible work arrangements are also particularly attractive to older workers. For example, if employees need time off to care for loved ones, as Roger did when her parents were ill, no one even bats an eye thanks to BMO’s strong elder care program, she said.

Or if an employee nearing retirement would like to work three days per week instead of five, he can refer to the company’s phased retirement program.

Retaining older workers is of particular concern to Canadian CEOs as 83 per cent of those surveyed expect the limited supply of skilled candidates over the next three years to be a key ­challenge, compared to 66 per cent globally, found the survey.

To keep mature workers at an organization, the HR department should segment its employee population and determine the specific needs of the mature workers through focus groups, surveys and interviews, said Corkery-Dooher.

“We need to use evidence-based approaches because, too often, we sit in the boardroom and sort of speculate,” she said. “What you have to start with is what motivates that group and think about what we can offer them.”

To recruit older workers, employers should consider an alumni program, where past employees are kept on file and can be called upon when needed, said Corkery-Dooher.

“It’s a very formal program around targeting the group that’s retiring and providing them with options to extend their careers,” she said. “They may tap into them during a busy season for technical training for new staff, for contract terms or casual work; it’s about extending the life of the current workforce.”

Older workers are an asset to any organization for many reasons, including technical and institutional experience that makes for a richer environment, said Dorothy Williams, vice-president of the Community Economic Development and Employability Corporation (CEDEC), based in Huntingdon, Que.

A lot of industries are highly reliant on knowledge workers and it bodes well for an organization to rely on a broader experience base, said Corkery-Dooher.

“The complexity of financial services is not going away, our customers are changing, the world of financials is changing and we need individuals with deep experience,” said Roger at BMO. “It’s very critical for us to retain those core employees that, for our customers, represent a huge asset.”

Older workers also bring a strong sense of loyalty to the business and are less impulsive with changing jobs, unlike many younger workers, said Williams.

“They’re at this point where they’re getting into a job and they want to stay; there’s not this culture of moving,” she said. “They want to contribute and create success because they have an inner sense or motivation that allows the older worker to be a valuable commodity.”

While some think getting older workers to adapt to a new technology may be a challenge, most are willing to learn new technologies to stay current, said Williams.

“I see a lot of grannies, if you will, learning how to use email and being more tech-savvy,” she said. “They might not ever warm up to BlackBerrys or Twitter but I think there is a willingness in them to continue to upgrade their skills.”

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