Workforce enters a new era: Old age

Alexis Kayser

There has been abundant discussion about how Generation Z will change the workforce with their interest in balance and flexibility. But a lesser-discussed, already-present trend will also affect the labor force in the coming decade: an increasing presence of older workers.

More than a fourth of the American workforce will be 55 or older by 2031, according to a recent data analysis from management consulting firm Bain & Company. That marks a 2 percent increase from 2021 and a 5 percent increase from 2011.

By 2030, 150 million jobs around the world will be taken by older workers. However, the talent market rarely caters to the aging population: Less than 4 percent of firms are committed to integrating older workers, AARP found in a 2020 global employer survey.

Motivations change as workers age, which can prove useful to workplaces, according to the Bain Worker Survey. Before turning 60, the average worker is motivated by compensation, but after, interesting work becomes their primary motivation.

Company loyalty also increases with age. Seventy-one percent of workers older than 62 report feeling loyal to their employer, compared to 50 percent of workers between the ages of 18 and 34.

There are ways to improve the talent landscape for older workers, and healthcare companies have paved the way on several initiatives. For example, the National Institutes of Health actively recruits people looking for a second wind in their career, specifically ex-military, and ex-academic professionals, according to Bain. In 2013, nearly half of its workforce was older than 50; the organization drew these workers in with strong health programs, flexible work policies and opportunities to serve as a mentor.

CVS Health also has specific opportunities for older workers. Its “Snowbirds” program allows several hundred workers who live in colder states to work in warmer ones in the wintertime. This happened to align with an uptick in customer demand in the areas, according to Bain.

As older workers cement a stronger place in the workforce, more businesses could benefit from policies similar to those at NIH and CVS, Bain suggests.