Retirement Survey Reveals Disconnects Between Employers and Older Workers
There are some interesting findings in the past two Retirement Surveys conducted by the nonprofit Transamerica Center for Retirement Studies®. The respondents included over 1800 employers and roughly 6000 workers. Here is a noteworthy selection from the report:
Three quarters of employers consider themselves to be “aging friendly”, yet only 54% of workers share that sentiment, and only about a quarter of firms have adopted a formal Diversity & Inclusion policy that specifically includes age.
The data suggests some disconnects between employees and older workers. What’s going on here? Even when companies try to be “aging friendly” it seems that some may be missing the mark. Like most workplace topics, this one is complicated and there are no simple answers, but I wonder if it has something to do with our cultural attitudes toward aging.
One of my former professors, the distinguished gero-psychologist David Gutmann, often referenced Simone de Beauvoir’s observation that older people can be seen as the stranger, the other. Are we unintentionally distancing ourselves from older workers, seeing them as somehow different from us, and making policy decisions that aren’t as inclusive and thoughtful as we think they are?
I’m reminded of an incident that occurred when I was 35. I went to lunch with my colleague Harold who was roughly 60 at the time. We were both professionally dressed in a jacket and tie. Although we were standing side-by-side, the restaurant hostess only made eye contact with me and spoke only to me. Her disregard and dismissal of my friend was jarring and made more so because she seemed utterly clueless about her behavior.
When it comes to helping older workers prepare for retirement, the surveys revealed other areas of concern . . .
Two-thirds of retirees say their most recent employers did “nothing” to help pre-retirees transition into retirement. Fewer than one in five employers offer retirement-oriented lifestyle and transition planning resources (17 percent) or provide information about encore career opportunities (13 percent).
Over 40% of workers surveyed envisioned a gradual off-ramp consisting of reduced hours, less demanding duties, or more personally satisfying work. Yet only a quarter of companies offer any sort of formal phased retirement program. Even more puzzling is that a third of those who don’t offer a program say it’s because employees aren’t interested.
The data suggests that older workers really want and need help beyond financial planning. Businesses can learn from their experience with employee engagement. We now have ample evidence that salary alone does not create engagement. Analogously, older workers need more than presentations about the size and diversification of their retirement account. They need the rest of us to acknowledge the enormity of the transition they’re facing, and they need their employer to keep this in mind when crafting policies. After all, employers don’t just contribute to an individual’s 401k. They also contribute meaning, structure, and purpose to that person’s daily life. Imagine what it’s like trying to replace those things.