Flexible Jobs for Mature Workers: An Ideal Format for a Growing Workforce?

The Big Picture

Here’s what we already know:  older adults are staying in the labor force longer, and younger adults are staying out of it longer.  Pew Research Center cites a government estimate whereby 93% of the growth in the U.S. labor force from 2006 to 2016 will be among workers ages 55 and older. The same Pew report tells us that 87% of older people prefer part-time work.  A study highlighted by Retired Brains and Workforce Management found that 73% of employers anticipate some level of increase in their contingent (i.e., not full-time) workforce by late 2010, with nearly 35% planning increases of 50% or more. Increase in reduced-hour jobs + Increase in mature workers who want reduced-hour jobs = match made in heaven, right?  Ideally, but not so fast.

The First Frontiers

Integrating mature adults into the workplace has its benefits (scroll down to “Myth of the Deficient Older Employee”).  Yet much of the growth in older adult employment stems from mature workers exiting the workplace and reentering as their own bosses in the form of entrepreneurs and consultants. An article from AARP recognizes that there are both “push” and “pull” factors that lead older workers to selfemployment.  Stockpiles of experience and resources combined with a flexible schedule may “pull” older workers away from more traditional wage and salary jobs while lay-offs and compromised health may “push” some older adults into self-employment. Older adults who lack the connections or skills to start their own business are too often directed to positions such as store greeters, a job considered to be genteel at its best and mundane at its worst.  While we are beginning to see more mature adults working as event staff and caregivers, we need to identify more alternatives for the 60% of older adults ages 55+ who are not in the labor force (Bureau of Labor Statistics).  

The Next Frontier:  Bring in the Reinforcements

Just about any organization from hospitals, to schools, to offices has peak demand loads that are best served by procuring resources on a contingent basis.  We are just beginning to think of ways to outsource jobs, and mature workers, often more reliable than younger generations, are well suited to meet these needs. A recent report sponsored by MetLife Foundation and Civic Ventures finds that despite the slow economy, there will likely be more jobs than people to fill them within ten years.  Healthcare and education jobs lead the way with opportunities in nursing, teacher’s aides, and child care workers. Rather than struggle to find last-minute replacements for your daycare or reception area, build a staff of semi on-call reinforcements who are trained to respond to your business needs.  If your organization is too small to maintain its own contingent staff, secure help through a staffing agency.  Also consider supporting full-time employee caregivers who need time off through job sharing with your corps of mature worker “reinforcements.” Bringing mature and younger workers together not only enhances the output, it enhances quality of life.  A Cornell study revealed that working older adults were 3.5 times more likely to report the highest quality of life ratings compared to older adults who did not work.  Taking advantage of the skills of mature workers will not only support economic productivity, it improves that worker’s well-being.  

“A Long Bright Future”

We may not want spend all of these “new” 30 years of longevity working full-time traditional jobs, but a complete exodus of mature workers robs society of critical talent and mature workers of a full spectrum of forums for contribution. In her book, “A Long Bright Future,” Dr. Laura Carstensen resolves that in an ideal world we would experience an “autumn crescendo” of working at will.  It is now time to populate that crescendo with work opportunities that span sectors, socioeconomic status, and formats. This post was edited by Heidi Enriquez. Photo courtesy of Julie70 on flickr.com.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *