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Retain older workers beyond retirement

Busi­ness­Week cov­ers a best prac­tice in a topic of grow­ing impor­tance: how large com­pa­nies can retain older work­ers in pro­duc­tive ways beyond a set arbi­trary retire­ment age.

Issue: Retir­ing Employ­ees, Lost Knowl­edge (Busi­ness Week)
A pilot pro­gram at Amer­i­can Express gives soon-to-be retirees less work and more time to pass along their exper­tise to younger generations

- “Before long, the group made an impor­tant dis­cov­ery: Not only would a huge num­ber of employ­ees become eli­gi­ble for retire­ment in the next five to 10 years, the com­pany had done lit­tle to retain the wealth of insti­tu­tional knowl­edge they would be tak­ing with them. From the intri­ca­cies of key client rela­tion­ships to main­frame com­puter lan­guages no longer being taught in school, many expe­ri­enced work­ers pos­sessed crit­i­cal know-how that, if lost, would be costly—if not impossible—for the com­pany to replace.”

- “These para­me­ters helped shape the Amer­i­can Express phased-retirement pro­gram, an ini­tia­tive launched in pilot mode dur­ing the first quar­ter of 2008. Rather than retir­ing and leav­ing the com­pany at once, par­tic­i­pants grad­u­ally give up their day-to-day respon­si­bil­i­ties, while replac­ing some of their free time with activ­i­ties like men­tor­ing and teach­ing mas­ter classes to their suc­ces­sors. In addi­tion, they get more time out of the office doing what­ever they want—be it plan­ning for life in retire­ment or doing char­ity work. The phased retiree con­tin­ues to receive a por­tion of his pre­vi­ous salary, ben­e­fits as usual, and the com­pany in turn gets to hold on to some of its most valu­able employ­ees a year or more past tra­di­tional retire­ment age.”

Com­ment: beau­ti­ful ini­tia­tive. For an increas­ing num­ber of work­ers, there is no real hard rea­son why retire­ment must hap­pen at some arbi­trary date, be it 60 or 65. Amer­i­can Express is look­ing for a win/ win arrange­ment, includ­ing cov­er­age of very impor­tant health benefits.

For con­text on how older work­ers can remain pro­duc­tive in areas where they have accu­mu­lated sig­nif­i­cant expe­ri­ence, let’s revisit some of the notes of my recent con­ver­sa­tion with researcher Art Kramer:

Alvaro Fer­nan­dez: In any case, your study rein­forces an impor­tant point: older brains can, and do, learn new skills.

Art Kramer: Yes. The rate of learn­ing by older adults may be slower, and they may ben­e­fit from more explicit instruc­tion and tech­nol­ogy train­ing, but, as a soci­ety, it is a mas­sive waste of tal­ent not to ensure older adults remain active and productive.

Another recent study we con­ducted, this one still under review, is titled Experience-Based Mit­i­ga­tion of Age-Related Per­for­mance Declines: Evi­dence from Air Traf­fic Con­trol. It deals with the ques­tion: “Can Age Itself Be an Obsta­cle for some­one to per­form as an Air Con­troller? And the Answer is: age itself, within the age range that we stud­ied, is not an obsta­cle. Our results sug­gest that, given sub­stan­tial accu­mu­lated expe­ri­ence, older adults can be quite capa­ble of per­form­ing at high lev­els of pro­fi­ciency on fast-paced demand­ing real-world tasks.

PS: reader Cather­ine just helped us see and fix a typo in this post…thank you, Catherine!

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