Mature workers alienated by workplace policies

Flexible work hours, health benefits among best ways to engage generational cohort
By Liz Bernier
|Canadian HR Reporter|Last Updated: 10/22/2013

Turning 65 doesn’t necessarily mean retirement anymore — but pressure to leave the workplace, combined with gaps in culture and some workplace policies, are pushing mature workers to retire before they’re ready.

That was the central finding of a study released by Ceridian and CARP, an advocacy group for Canadians over age 50.

Second Wind: The Evolving Nature of Retirement sheds light on the situation of mature workers in Canada, who often face systemic obstacles to staying in the workplace as long as they might like to.

More than one-half (57 per cent) of mature workers want to keep working — but on their own terms, found the study. Extended health benefits beyond retirement age were requested by 48 per cent of respondents, while flexible work hours were cited by 46 per cent.

The number of mature workers who want to stay in the workplace longer is steadily increasing, said Estelle Morrison, vice-president of clinical and wellness services at Ceridian in Toronto.

“One of the big reasons for that is financial,” she said. “People are living longer and so that need for continued financial support becomes greater.”

But mature workers have their own specific set of needs, and may feel alienated by workplace policies that are one-size-fits-all.

And retaining older workers is very important, said Morrison — particularly in light of the knowledge gaps that arise when experienced employees move on.

“Looking to harness the expertise and the wisdom that mature workers have is a concern when you consider that possibility of people exiting the work environment and not necessarily having the experience to replace it,” she said.

Age discrimination a major challenge

The crux of the problem is that even when mature workers want to remain in the workplace, they often face a number of systemically entrenched policies and attitudes that can become major obstacles.

“They’re facing a certain amount of age discrimination in the workplace,” said Susan Eng, vice-president of advocacy at CARP in Toronto.

“There’s an assumption that they should be leaving, that they should be making way for somebody else, and there’s a need for us to proactively work against that assumption.”

It’s important to realize that mature workers don’t always stay in the workforce because they want to, said Eng — many are staying there out of necessity.

“Because of the economic downturn, (some) people didn’t save enough… the people who need to keep working now are the people who didn’t have enough savings (or) their savings were devastated and, of course, their kids are not getting jobs,” said Eng, adding that many of the workers who stay in the workplace do so to offset debts they took on later in life.

“Oftentimes, it was not for luxury vacations — it was to help out their kids,” she said.

But while age discrimination in the workplace has been discouraged with the removal of mandatory retirement, it is still present in more subtle ways, said Eng.

“It’s a little bit more disguised.”

While removing the mandatory retirement age has created better legal protections when it comes to age discrimination, many employers still don’t fully grasp the importance of attracting older workers, said Katherine Ford, a lawyer at the Toronto-based firm Sherrard Kuzz LLP, which specializes in employment law.

“We’re at an interesting crossroads because while there are certainly better legal protections, there are also many circumstances where employers are facing a bit of a labour shortage and a knowledge gap,” she said.

“So, really, there may be a lot of factors at play where they’re actually going to be looking to recruit and retain their more mature workforce.”

Creating a successful intergenerational workplace is a common desire for many employers, said Morrison.

“We hear a fair bit about the need to manage a number of generations in the workplace that are very different, that have very different approaches to work, bring different benefits, challenges (and) skill sets to the work environment,” she said.

The benefits and skill sets of mature workers are clear: a wealth of experience, company loyalty and dedication, and mentorships for younger workers, said Morrison.

Maintaining health a significant concern

But there are also challenges — one major one being health concerns.

Forty-eight per cent of respondents to the study by Ceridian and CARP said maintaining their health is a significant concern for them. But tools such as employee assistance programs (EAPs) are one way to help offset that.

“There are unique challenges that an older worker would face that an EAP can support, such as physical health and wellness,” said Morrison.

“We have, for example, programs that include consultation with nutritionists, with naturopaths, health coaching, health challenges, health risk assessments… there’s a number of tools that (an EAP) can provide organizations and individuals (with) to ensure that there is a preventative stance toward health and well-being.”

A preventative stance along with benefits and accommodations that are tailored toward mature workers can make all the difference when it comes to attracting the experience and talent this cohort can provide.

HP Advanced Solutions shows how it’s done

HP Advanced Solutions is a Victoria-based IT provider with about 430 employees. It has been recognized on numerous occasions for being an employer of choice, and was named a 2013 Top Employer for Canadians over 40 by Mediacorp Canada.

Nadine Harrison, vice-president of human resource services at HP Advanced Solutions, said valuing mature workers and forming an intergenerational workplace has created countless benefits for their team.

“We actually have a much broader base of knowledge,” she said. “We have more innovation, more creativity… it just creates a much broader and stronger team.”

It’s a very customer-centred business, according to Pam Bishop, director of marketing and communications at HP Advanced Solutions.

“When we have employees who have that long track record… they understand the foundation, they understand the building blocks that went into where the customer is today.”

HP Advanced Solutions offers phased-in retirement work options and assistance with succession planning, including having an expert pension planner offer individualized counselling to employees.

“We do have a lot of longer term employees that transition (to us) and, of course, with the new changes (prohibiting) the mandatory retirement age, we’ve got many workers now who are past 65,” said Harrison.

“What we’ve done with some of them is we’ve actually taken their key skills and put them into more of a SME (subject matter expert) role, and have them actually training the newer, younger generation in the key skills that they’ve developed over their career.”

Those benefits, along with the company’s accommodations, such as an elder care policy and flexible scheduling, help keep mature workers in the workplace longer, because they’re able to balance their careers with their personal lives.

“So it’s not life or work, it’s both,” said Harrison. “They can actually continue to function well in both realms of life. And that keeps people really engaged because they feel very supported by us, but they also are allowed to focus on their (personal) life as well.”

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