50-plus awards celebrate older workers

Only 3 employers make the list
By Sarah Dobson
|Canadian HR Reporter|Last Updated: 03/14/2011

An 82-year-old employee at Bethany Care Society in Calgary has pledged to stay on the job for two more years so he can be the oldest person to receive a five-year service award at the not-for-profit organization.

Senior workers at the provider of health, housing and support for seniors and people with disabilities are made to feel welcome, through targeted recruitment and retention initiatives. And these efforts were recognized with a Best Employers Award for 50-Plus Canadians for 2011 from the Workplace Institute in Toronto.

Bethany Care has changed and strategized its recruitment efforts with marketing directed at the older community that emphasizes meaningful work and long-term relationships, said Darrell Lang, vice-president of HR at the organization.

“It’s a different kind of reward that really appeals to people that are further along in their careers,” he said. “We realize, partly, that the continuing care industry isn’t the sexy industry for a health-care worker to go into… we don’t attract a lot of the younger, right-out-of-school health-care professionals.”

In the past year-and-a-half, Bethany Care hired nearly 60 employees over the age of 50 and only 23 have left, he said, with many retiring.

“That shows our targeted recruiting strategy is making headway.”

To retain workers, the society is always keeping an eye out for opportunities that might appeal to this age group, such as mentoring or coaching roles, he said.

“You often can’t do that role if you’re straight out of university with no real practical experience,” said Lang. “This is really appealing — they know they can coach and mentor, they know they have lots of wisdom, as do we, and they’re usually less stressful roles.”

Lang has also worked with Bow Valley College in a research project looking at the retention or re-entry of mature workers.

“They need help in marketing themselves, they need help showing an organization how they can add value so they don’t get dismissed as soon as they show up at an interview.”

Walmart looks at ‘heart,’ not age

Organizations such as Bethany Care create strategies, policies and programs that better meet the needs of mature workers, according to Barbara Jaworski, CEO of the Workplace Institute. But only two other organizations were considered worthy enough to receive the award this year — Walmart Canada and the Catholic Children’s Aid Society (CCAS) of Toronto.

“There aren’t that many organizations that are really focusing on older workers, sadly,” she said. “It’s kind of scary considering the reports that are coming out everywhere about the labour crisis we are going to be having.”

Walmart is a repeat winner because of its focus on making sure it can attract and hire older workers, said Jaworski. A newer initiative this year saw Walmart boosting its recruiting through an online application process that helps remove bias from the initial hiring, said Jaworski.

In the selection process, the company focuses more on “heart” than any other criteria, said Bob Hakeem, senior vice-president of the people division at Walmart.

“It doesn’t screen for anything other than, ‘What is the person all about and are they really customer-focused and passionate about retail?’” he said. “When you do that, age doesn’t matter.”

Walmart vies to be an employer of the community, so its employee base reflects the customer base, he said.

“That ensures we get diversity not only from a gender or ethnic perspective but certainly also from an age perspective. That’s why 25 per cent of our population is over 50.”

And frequent engagement surveys find the most-engaged employees are those over 50, said Hakeem.

“Obviously, we’re doing something right in terms of our regular practices that are applicable to all associates, but it resonates with this group in particular.”

The mature workers are also appreciated because they can mentor younger workers.

“They usually have all the knowledge base around how processes work in the business and it’s just great seeing the two generations actually work together,” said Hakeem.

CCAS offers generous benefits

The Catholic Children’s Aid Society (CCAS) of Toronto has received the 50-plus award five times, said Jaworski. The organization has almost 700 employees at nine locations and focuses on a healthy workplace culture by frequently checking in with workers.

“It was often through those kinds of culture checks that they were finding out that the needs of older workers were, in fact, not necessarily being met,” she said. “It’s really difficult for them to retain staff because of how stressful and emotional the work is.”

CCAS now conducts exit surveys for retirees to “really get feedback on how they can continue to meet their older workforce needs,” she said.

Long-term staff deliver orientation to new employees about values, issues and adjusting to the job. There is also a retiree mentorship program, with former employees providing financial and lifestyle tips on retirement, said Jaworski.

The society encourages retirees to become volunteers or part-time workers and tries to maintain a relationship with them through a quarterly newsletter and annual banquet. Retirees and their dependents also continue to receive health benefits and CCAS provides cataclysmic drug coverage, needed for health concerns such as cancer, said Jaworski.

“It’s generally older employees who may be struck down by an illness like this,” she said. “When employees get into the position of having to pay all of their retirement money for some cataclysmic drug coverage, it can shatter a person’s health, morale and future in terms of retiring.”

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