Lip Service? Poll Shows Concern Over Older Workers Retiring, Business Losing Skills

Age discrimination is rampant. Older workers have a hard time finding jobs

Age discrimination is rampant.

Employers are apparently waking up to the fact that millions of older workers will begin retiring soon, and they’ve done relatively little about it — other than layoff older workers.

A joint poll released 09 April 2012 by the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) and AARP shows that “U.S. employers are ramping up skills training and employee benefits aimed at closing skills gaps left when Baby Boomers retire, and at retaining and recruiting older workers.”

More than seven in 10 — 72% — of human resource professionals polled by SHRM and AARP described the loss of talented older workers as “a problem” or “a potential problem” for their organizations.

HR managers surveyed their organizations have prepared for the loss of older workers who retire by:

  • Increased training and cross-training (45%)
  • Developed succession planning (38%)
  • Hired retired employees as consultants or temporary workers (30%)
  • Offered flexible work arrangements (27%)
  • Designed part-time positions to attract older workers (24%).

The results of the poll seem contradictory since reports of age discrimination have exploded since the start of the Great Recession and have remained high ever since.

Statistical research, legal actions and anecdotal evidence have documented the difficulty older workers, especially those 50 and older, have finding jobs especially after being laid off from jobs they may have had for many years.

According to a recent Rutgers University survey of unemployed workers, more than half of those laid off in the Great Recession who have found jobs make less money.

Story: EEOC Broadens Job Protections for Older Americans

The older workers who have managed to hold onto their jobs seem in no hurry to retire. Today, 32% of people aged 65 to 69 remain in the workforce, compared to 18% in 1985.

Some older workers want to delay retirement to keep their health care.

Some older workers want to keep working to keep their health care.

When older workers lose jobs, they are less likely to get another one quickly and have greater earnings losses than younger workers, according to Bureau of Labor Statistics data.

In 2004, for example, the average period of joblessness for older workers was 26 weeks, compared with 19 weeks for younger job seekers.

A more recent national survey found that job seekers 55 and older had been out of work and average of 56 weeks, 20 weeks longer than the average for younger job seekers.

Rutgers University research found dislocated workers with 20 years experience find jobs that pay, on average, between 20% and 40% less than their previous jobs.

An Urban Institute study on job changes concluded that older displaced workers, those ages 45-75, who found other employment averaged wage losses of 19%. One-quarter of older men laid-off from long-term jobs had hourly wage losses of at least 50%.

And that’s if the older worker actually finds a job. More than half of older job seekers are considered long-term unemployed, having been out of work six months or more.

Workers under 50 years of age are 42% more likely to be called for an interview than those 50 and older, Rutgers University research found.

Older workers re-entering the workforce also have fewer employment opportunities than younger workers and are likely to be employed in a narrower range of industries and occupations than younger workers, according to the Rutgers University report.

Against this background, it’s hard to take the results of the new SHRM/AARP study too seriously.

The SHRM/AARP poll, which focused on strategic workforce planning, also asked human resource professionals to identify the greatest “basic skills” and “applied skills” gaps between workers age 31 and younger compared with workers age 50 and older.

Basic skills – more than half (51%) of human resource managers indicated they find older workers to have stronger writing, grammar, and spelling skills in English

Applied skills – more than half (52%) of human resource managers said older workers exhibit stronger professionalism/work ethic.

SHRM and AARP note that the Pew Research Center finds that 10,000 Baby Boomers will turn 65 daily during the next 20 years.

In 2011, the oldest of the 77 million Baby Boomers began turning age 65 — the traditional retirement age.

Despite the proactive steps being taken, the SHRM-AARP poll finds that many U.S. organizations are largely unprepared for the brain drain and skills void that talented, retiring older workers will leave.

Perhaps that’s because these same organizations have already shed most of their older workers?

About 71% of the HR professionals polled said their organizations have not conducted a strategic workforce planning assessment to analyze what will happen when workers 50 and older who leave.

“Although we are encouraged to see that many organizations across the country are preparing for the challenge of Baby Boomer retirements, much more work needs to be done in both the short and long-term,” said Hank Jackson, SHRM president and CEO. “That is why we are working together with AARP to provide organizations and their HR professionals with the tools they need to retain and engage their older, experienced talent.”

“Older workers bring unique talents and skills to the workforce, and are a great asset to employers,” said Jean Setzfand, AARP’s vice president for financial security. “We are pleased to be joining forces with SHRM in providing resources to assist employers in determining their workforce needs.”

To help U.S. businesses and organizations, the two organizations offer numerous resources through their partnership, including:

AARP’s free, online Workforce Assessment Tool which provides a snapshot of an organization’s workforce and demographics and analyzes its programs to leverage the talents of its older workers. More than 3,000 organizations have utilized the tool.

The SHRM-AARP Partnership Resource Page on SHRM’s website. The resource page includes poll and survey findings, articles, and links to the assessment tool, among others.

The SHRM-AARP poll surveyed 430 randomly selected HR professionals from SHRM’s membership. For details, visit the survey directly at the BITLY at

The poll is one of several projects marking the SHRM-AARP partnership to raise awareness about older worker issues and to provide resources and strategies to address these issues.

Age Discrimination Fact Sheet

Please subscribe to WWOW’s posts by email:


List your business in the premium web directory for free This website is listed under Human Resources Directory