COVID-19 gives talent management professionals an opportunity to look more closely at the value of a diverse workforce.

Age diversity is often overlooked in the discussion. The old idea of seniors living out their “golden years” not working is largely untrue these days. We are aging better, staying healthy and active for longer – and many Americans age 55 and over want or need to continue to work.

Bureau of Labor Statistics data show that people in this age group are actively looking for work. It predicts that the labor force participation rate will grow most rapidly among those 65 to 74 and 75 and older; a trend that will continue at least through 2024. In many cases, these adults have foundational skills and training that are still valuable today.

“It’s important to include age diversity in DEI efforts because age continues to be among the most overlooked forms of diversity, even though it’s one of the most ubiquitous,” says Michael North, assistant professor of management and organizations at the NYU Stern School of Business. His research focuses on the aging and increasingly multi-generational workforce. “It’s just not on people’s radar in the way that other demographic categories are. This is surprising for a number of reasons, including the fact that workers are working longer than ever, more workplace generations co-exist with one another than ever, and virtually everyone agrees that rapid population aging around the industrialized world threatens crippling the worldwide economy – and that accommodating older workers will help stem the predicted bleeding.”

How to Recruit Older Workers

The business case for targeting this population in recruitment marketing efforts is clear, North says. “They are reliable, conscientious and experienced. In addition, many of them possess in-demand soft skills, such as emotional stability, emotionally intelligence and pattern recognition.”

Recruitment marketing strategies can be passive, such as creating content about how your organization values age diversity and the 55-plus employee, which sends a clear message that yours is a welcoming workplace. You can even sign the AARP Employer Pledge, which signifies your commitment to a multigenerational workforce and including older people in your DEI initiatives.

More active tactics invite those who have left the workforce to return. From administrative and maintenance staff to nurses and physicians, return to work programs deliver motivated and knowledgeable candidates. This endeavor could be especially helpful in stemming the nursing shortage. For example, Allegheny Health Network launched the RetuRN to Practice Program, which offers flexible scheduling and a paid refresher course to bring skills up to date.

How to Retain Older Workers

Holding onto seasoned staff is also vital.

“Older employees typically have higher levels of organizational memory,” North says. “This means that they are living, breathing information storehouses that can best articulate the organization’s overall purpose in a holistic manner, helping put things in perspective in terms of prior challenges faced and overcome.”

They also bring industry knowledge, strong professional networks and life experience that add important perspectives to decision-making at all levels. Their know-how – that practical knowledge gained from experience – can be transferred to new staff to strengthen onboarding and training.

Most of the retention strategies you’re already using are important to older workers, such as flexible scheduling and part-time/job-sharing options. Other tactics include creating mentoring programs to pair experienced employees with less-experienced ones, and enlisting seasoned staffers to develop learning content. These activities boost professional development, show veteran team members that you value them, and increase their interest in staying on. You should also look at phased retirement and flexible benefits, which make the decision to continue working easier.

How to Create a Culture that Values Age

Culture is a vital component in recruiting and retention. To attract and keep older workers, it’s important to show tangible appreciation for their contributions. Here are four ways to make your organization more welcoming to experienced employees:

  • Debunk myths. There are misconceptions about every generation. For people over 65, the pervasive belief is that they’re not good at learning new things, especially technology. “Chronological age is not the only signal of one’s technological capability or ability to learn,” North says. Create some employee communications that focus on the important benefits seasoned employees bring to the workplace to counteract these harmful generalizations.
  • Provide training. Age is often forgotten in DEI training, onboarding and continuing education. Make sure anti-bias training includes agism, and regularly review federal and state age discrimination criteria with supervisors and managers.
  • Develop more inclusive applications, job descriptions and recruitment marketing. Requiring criteria like graduation or birth dates can intimidate applicants who fear discrimination. Language and design centered on the latest fads or social media trends may send a signal that people of a certain age aren’t welcomed. Review your recruitment materials to make them less age-related.
  • Assess policies and procedures. Unintentional ageism could be lurking in manuals and other materials. Undertake a careful review to remove agist language and exclusionary policies. Look closely at your retirement policies and hiring processes to make sure they’re inclusive and encouraging to older workers.

Focusing on age diversity is a smart way to address the labor shortage, improve decision-making and remain competitive. Use these perspectives to capitalize on this opportunity to diversify your workforce.

For additional insight on diversity in healthcare, watch our Talent Symposium Diversity Focus Group.

About Kerry Unflat

Kerry Unflat is Chief Human Resources at HealthcareSource. She leads the talent function at HealthcareSource and has more than 20 years of experience providing HR support and leadership in academia, entertainment and software. Her broad experience includes organizational development, talent management, employee and labor relations, benefits, compensation, technology, and talent acquisition. Prior to joining HealthcareSource, Kerry served as the Managing Director of HR Operations at WGBH Educational Foundation. She served in various finance and human resources leadership roles at Harvard University for ten years, working for the General Counsel’s office, the Police Department, and the Office for Sponsored Programs. Prior to joining Harvard University, Kerry was the HR Manager for Clear Channel Entertainment - Broadway in Boston and was the local HR leader and management representative for four of Boston’s largest theaters. Kerry earned her Bachelor of Arts degree in English at Marist College in Poughkeepsie, N.Y., and possesses a Senior Certified Professional certification from SHRM (SHRM-SCP).