An office in the mountains

Flexible work arrangements, and locations, are one way HSBC attracts and retains older workers

After spending three decades with HSBC Bank Canada, Bob Mettler retired in 2007. But the following year, the 65-year-old associate vice-president of finance was back on the job, attracted by HSBC’s offer of flexible work arrangements, mentoring opportunities and new challenges.

He now works three to four days a week in Toronto, depending on the project, leaving time for activities he says were somewhat neglected during his full-time career, such as golf, bridge and volunteer work.

He intends to continue for as long as he is needed and enjoys the work.

“I feel I can readily contribute. I would not want to work where I thought I was more of a hindrance than a help. I have familiarity with the organization, the systems and the people, so I can ‘hit the ground running.’ Thus I’m of more help to the bank than a non-HSBC experienced contract worker,” he says. “I do want to keep myself mentally engaged, and this is one way to accomplish that.”

Mettler’s return illustrates the effectiveness of HSBC’s strategy to target a mature workforce, which began in 2005 when the company closely examined its demographics.

“We realized we had a disproportionate number of older workers eligible to retire between 2010 and 2015, so we said we really need to get a handle on this group of employees and what makes them tick, and how can we better engage those folks to actually stay around longer,” says Pat Brosseau, vice-president of HR at the Toronto-based financial institution, which has about 8,500 employees.

Employee surveys had also shown engagement was highest with the mature workforce, “all the more reason to try to keep them,” she says.

Deciding to focus on attraction, retention and engagement initiatives, HSBC got the ball rolling in 2006 by conducting a survey of employees aged 53 to 64. The focus groups and one-on-one phone interviews with 61 people asked what would make them stay longer and what would attract them back to the organization after they retired.

The results were interesting, says Brosseau, as one-half of respondents said they were not yet ready to retire over the next three to five years and would like to continue working. And 85 per cent said they would love to come back to work after they retired.

The main drivers to stay were flexible work and part-time work, according to the poll, as 45 per cent said they would love to keep working or come back to work on a part-time basis. The mature workers also said they did not necessarily have to come back at the same level or to the same area of expertise, as long as they were doing something of value at the organization.

“What they told us were some of the barriers to coming back were some of the inflexibilities of some of our programs,” says Brosseau.

Several incentives

HSBC launched several initiatives to boost its attraction with mature workers, while enhancing and raising awareness of existing policies. To contact employees approaching retirement, HSBC relies heavily on managers to find out about employees’ intentions. Training for managers has focused primarily on flexibility and thinking outside of the box in terms of how people of any age work, she says.

HSBC also introduced sabbaticals for employees with at least 10 years of experience, so they can take six months to one year off for a “life-enriching” event. About 10 employees have taken advantage of the program so far, she says.

A returning retiree program also aims to make it easier for former employees to return. The initiative includes an annual luncheon that helps promote a return to HSBC and an informative website featuring job postings for retirees.

“We’re starting to get more and more retirees coming back,” she says. “When we first launched it, we had a handful but it’s starting to get some momentum and part of it is we’re promoting it a lot more.”

The organization also tries to keep in touch with retirees through a formal committee. Leaders meet with HSBC’s senior vice-president of HR and external investment consultants at least once a year, primarily to review the status of the pension plans.

“This provides us with an opportunity to gain a greater understanding of the issues of our retirees, which we can then proactively address,” says Brosseau.

Another initiative is “Flex Place,” which allows employees to mimic workstations from a remote location. While there have been some hiccups along the way, this approach provides all employees, including older workers, with the flexibility to work from home or the cottage. One employee in Vancouver said he was planning to retire in two years but would prefer a more flexible arrangement — from his mountain cabin. So he was allowed to work from that remote location for two years while also mentoring his successor.

“It was a great transition,” says Brosseau. “The advantage of retaining older workers is the retention of the knowledge (both technical and institutional) longer, allowing a better transition for the successor.”

Phased retirement is also offered at HSBC and it’s up to each employee to work out an arrangement with her manager. This concept is slowly becoming more popular.

“Again, it’s a matter of keeping it in front of people, rather than buried in the policy manual,” she says.

Enhancements to post-65 pensions are also available for regular full- or part-time employees. And mature workers may be attracted to a job-sharing policy offered to all full-time employees.

“One of the benefits that is highlighted in the policy references the employee who wishes to gradually phase into retirement with a potential replacement,” says Brosseau.

As for the recession and its impact, strategies have “not yet” been affected at HSBC and remain status quo, says Brosseau, however, she expects fewer people will want to retire.

And going forward, HSBC is in the midst of considering more strategic efforts to target older workers who are not at HSBC.

“There’s a whole pool of untapped talent,” she says.

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