You know how dogs do that stiff-legged resistance thing when you try to drag them through the door to see the vet? Well, older workers are apparently doing the same when it comes to retirement. They are digging in and not budging, much to the chagrin of companies that would like to be rid of them and their higher salaries.
A recent Towers Watson survey of 457 U.S. companies with retirement plans found that 84 percent of them plan to increase their efforts to educate employees on saving and investing over the next two or three years.
But before you jump to any conclusions about the benevolent nature of this corporate gesture, let's just get real for a minute: These companies really just want to encourage older workers to get off their payrolls sooner rather than later.
The author of the report, Robyn Credico, Towers Watson's Defined Contribution Practice Leader, North America, told The Huffington Post that it's not that older workers aren't valued but more that companies want "workers to move through the work force at a reasonable pace." How does Credico, who is 56 -- yes, we asked -- define "reasonable pace?" Depending on the organization and the type of work, it's 65, she said. It can be anywhere from 62 to 67.
And then there is the other reason: Companies don't want to hold back younger workers from advancing, so older workers need to move out of the way, she said. And yes, older workers are more expensive. So there you have it.
As columnist Richard Eisenberg wrote in Forbes about the study, corporate kindness has little to do with companies being willing to encourage older workers to save more for retirement. "Indeed," he wrote, "the survey found that 53 percent of employers are concerned about their older workers 'deferring' retirement and 82 percent said they believe retirement readiness 'will be an issue'."
Yes, retirement readiness is an "issue." It's an issue complicated by the fact that boomers are living longer, are in better shape than previous generations were at 65 in every which way except maybe financial, and we just may not want to quit work at the age our fathers did. And the desire to stay professionally engaged notwithstanding, we still like to eat. The lingering damage of the Great Recession still haunts our financial readiness. Some would say that lingering damage also haunts our adult children who still live with us. Retirement? It's just not in the cards for many -- no matter how much companies want us to save.
According to the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics, 32.2 percent of Americans age 65 to 69 are in the labor force -- meaning they are working or looking for work. This is up from 21.3 percent two decades ago, so the percentage of older workers in the labor force has climbed. Which is why I'd like to reframe the discussion away from why companies may want to get rid of older workers and instead offer a few reasons why employers should be looking to keep us around:
1. We have institutional knowledge.
This doesn't mean we start every sentence with "In the old days, we did it this way." It means we know what's been tried and what failed. We have experience to share. We also care about spelling, pay attention to detail, know how to write and communicate, and yes, can upload a video to YouTube.
2. We are reliable workers.
We show up in the rain and snow. We have always worked hard. And we aren't going anywhere: We don't spend half the day networking for our next job because there's an excellent chance that the job we presently have will be our last. So we are focused on the task at hand. We also have been around the block a few times and know how to navigate difficult office personalities; so less drama.
3. Diversity is a beautiful thing.
We need to start including age diversity in that rainbow spectrum. Just like having workers of different races and faiths provides different perspectives, so does having workers of differing ages. If your office consists of only entry-level recent college graduates, the only perspective you hear is that one voice. What about the rest of the universe? Your workforce should mirror the population you serve, not the cheapest labor you can find.
4. Age discrimination is illegal.
You can't fire or not hire someone because they are too old. The Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 protects individuals who are 40 years of age or older from employment discrimination based on age. But ask any mid-lifer looking for work right now and they'll tell you how toothless the ADEA is. AARP notes that age discrimination claims have been on the rise since 1997, when 15,785 reports were filed. Last year, 21,396 claims were recorded.
5. Some companies are bucking the trend with great results.
CVS Caremark transfers several hundred pharmacists and drugstore workers from Northern states to pharmacies in Florida and other warm climates. It's their own "snowbird" program that appeals to older workers who might otherwise have retired. Vita Needle, a manufacturing company in Needham, Mass., is famous for employing older workers. The median age of its workforce is 74. Why? Because older folks have a tremendous work ethic.