On the Clock

When It Comes to Hiring Boomers, Some Employers "Get It"

Krakenimages-8RXmc8pLX_I-unsplash OntheClockThere's a slowly growing phenomenon in the American workplace that represents some optimism for Boomers who want to keep working. While the pandemic has turned the workplace upside down for Boomers as well as other workers, some employers not only see the wisdom in retaining Boomer employees, they actually recruit them.

It is heartening to see journalists and job search sites reinforce this notion. In a recent article on Entrepreneur.com, for example, journalist John Boitnott (who appears to be younger than a Boomer) cites "5 Advantages Older Workers Have Over Other Job Candidates." Among the advantages Boitnott lists: "There's wisdom in experience," "They help create long-term organizational knowledge at your company," and "They're more technology-savvy than you think." Similarly, for recruitment service Recruiterbox, outreach manager Erin Engstrom positions hiring Boomers as increasing diversity. She writes, "When you hear 'hiring for diversity,' you likely think about efforts to hire more female employees, or members of underrepresented minority groups. Another important way to diversify your team, though, is through age." Engstrom offers "6 Reasons Baby Boomers are Great for Business" and discusses each in detail: Experience, Leadership, A Different Perspective, Credibility, Interpersonal Skills and Adaptability.

Granted, it remains a reality that Boomer workers are often discriminated against because of age, and that some employers are only too happy to dump a higher salaried Boomer during a downsizing. Still, enlightened employers recognize the value of the Boomer worker. Such efforts are boosted by initiatives like the "AARP Employer Pledge Program," which encourages employers to "stand with AARP in affirming the value of experienced workers." A list of over 1,000 Boomer-friendly companies who have signed the pledge can be found at https://www.aarp.org/work/job-search/employer-pledge-companies/ Increasingly, there are also other lists of companies that welcome Boomer workers, such as FORTUNE magazine's "20 Best Workplaces for Baby Boomers." We haven't yet reached the point at which every employer values and respects Boomer workers but we're slowly making progress.

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Boomers in the Workforce in 2021

OntheClock Screen Shot 2021-01-22 at 2.18.08 PMIt will come as no surprise that the number of Boomers who retired in 2020 increased dramatically. In the third quarter of 2020, 3.2 million more Boomers retired than in the third quarter of 2019, according to a recent report from the Pew Research Center. In Q3 2020, 28.6 million Boomers said they were now retired.

Behind the sobering statistic is, of course, pandemic-related job losses. Just as important, however, is the continuing ageism that exists in the American workplace. In some ways, the pandemic has provided convenient cover for companies to practice age discrimination. It is completely acceptable and even desirable for companies to eliminate Boomers first when reducing their workforces. It's almost always a financial decision, but as I've written about many times in the past, this is largely a short-sighted strategy. Boomers are typically the most experienced and often the most loyal workers. If they have been at a company for several years, Boomers also represent an invaluable knowledge base. By eliminating Boomers, companies are discarding a brain trust that is not easily replicated. Replacing such talent and depth with less experienced, less expensive workers is downright senseless.

Still, it happens with alarming frequency. The problem is compounded by corporate hiring practices which, again, are discriminatory on the basis of age.

So what's a Boomer who wants to work in 2021 supposed to do? Many Boomers will be forced into full-time positions of lesser responsibility that pay far below what their earning history should command. Others will have to restart their career in another field, facing entry level work. Some Boomers will find part-time work more attractive, even if it's menial. A growing percentage of Boomers will go into contract work or start their own businesses. Sadly, some Boomers will simply give up and involuntarily retire from the workforce.

Thankfully, there are organizations and resources filling an important need in assisting Boomers who want to continue working. One of them is AARP, which offers a number of resources, including the following:

  • The Work Reimagined website, a central point of information for older workers
  • The Job Loss site, with information for those who have suffered job or income loss due to the pandemic
  • The AARP Job Board, listing jobs from employers pledged to hire older workers

Do an internet search to find additional resources for older workers.

On the positive side, America's population is gradually aging, so employers who need workers may find they have no choice but to consider Boomers for open positions. Hopefully, that means we'll see more Boomers in the workforce in 2021.

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On the Hunt in '21

OntheClock Kelly-sikkema-uUBltZemj1E-unsplashIn my previous post, I suggested that many Boomers will be taking stock as they head toward next year, and some may be considering early retirement. The coronavirus pandemic may be one key factor in the current retirement rate, and data suggests more Boomers are in fact retiring. A recent Pew Research Center report indicates that, in Q3 2020, around 28.6 million Boomers said they were out of the work force due to retirement. That number was 3.2 million higher than in Q3 2019. Since February 2020, the number of retired Boomers has increased by about 1.1 million. (The percentage of increase was larger for Boomers 65 and older.) Contrast that to last year: The rise in Boomer retirees from February to September 2019 was only 250,000.

For some, however, early retirement is not an option. You may want to work or need to work in 2021. If so, an issue surrounding employment is likely to be an insidious factor -- ageism. I've written about the discriminatory nature of ageism in our society on many occasions, so I don't need to remind you that it is an ever-present reality when you are looking for a job.

Ageism is a challenge and there is no magic formula for breaking through the ageism barrier when seeking employment. Still, Boomers will find encouragement from prospective employers who value their experience and maturity. For older workers seeking employment next year, retirement coach Nancy Collamer solicited tips from other coaching colleagues and she offers this list of five solid tactics:

  1. Diversify your networking strategies
  2. Network before you need to do so
  3. Spiff up your LinkedIn presence
  4. Pivot to high-growth industries
  5. Get creative.

Read the details about each of these tactics in Nancy's NextAvenue article here: https://www.nextavenue.org/how-to-get-a-job-in-2021/

NextAvenue also offers an area of its website called Work & Purpose with helpful, informative articles concerning finding a job, starting a business, starting a new career, volunteering and workplace issues. Many other sources are available to Boomer job seekers -- AARP's Job Search Resources page is a good place to start. In addition to full-time employment, a growing number of  opportunities exist in freelance, consulting and part-time employment.

If you're "on the hunt" for work in 2021, stay positive. Know your capabilities, capitalize on your experience, cultivate contacts and be persistent. You have a lot to offer!

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The Real Dilemma for Older Workers

OntheClock Person-731423_1920For Boomers who want to or have to work and are seeking a new position, they often face a harsh reality: Accept a job that is far below their experience level and pay grade. In the Fall 2019 issue of Generations, the Journal of the American Society on Aging, Carl E. Van Horn and Maria Heidkamp write, "When older job seekers are able to find work, it often is temporary or part time, pays less than they had previously earned, and does not provide a full suite of benefits."

This reality seems counter-intuitive. Not only are Boomers highly experienced and dependable, they are actually an important and growing part of the U.S. labor market. By 2026, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), as much as one quarter of the workforce, over 42 million people, will be older workers, and workers older than age 65 are expected to remain in the labor market at a higher rate than their younger counterparts.

Still, as Van Horn and Heidkamp report, Boomers are often relegated to "precarious jobs" that are typically low paying and often consist of part-time, temporary and contract positions, most of which offer no benefits. It is estimated by BLS that 4.7 million workers are considered "involuntary part-time" because they could not find full-time positions. Almost 40 percent of these involuntary part-time workers had two or more jobs, and one third of them said they sometimes could not afford food, medication or healthcare in the past year.

Even older workers who are employed full time are vulnerable. Van Horn and Heidkamp cite this example: In New Jersey, a private organization called New Start Career Network (NSCN) was started to help the state's older job seekers who were long-term unemployed or underemployed. The organization surveyed its membership of more than 4,500 and compiled the results from 637 respondents. Less than half (45 percent) were employed when they answered the survey in 2018. About half (48 percent) of those employed worked full time, while 15 percent were employed in temporary or contract positions, 13 percent were voluntary part time, 12 percent were involuntary part time, and 5 percent were self-employed (6 percent classified their situation as "other").

Over three-quarters (76 percent) of those NSCN members who were employed "were earning less than they had before their long-term unemployment, and of this group that earned less, three in four (73 percent) estimated that their yearly earnings declined by more than $20,000. Only one in ten earned more than they had prior to their period of unemployment." This represents just one organization in one state, but it is typical of the employment experiences of millions of Boomer workers. (Van Horn and Heidkamp are both associated with the NSCN, which is funded by the Heldrich Center for Workforce Development at Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey.)

In their article, Van Horn and Heidkamp propose specific policy recommendations to help remedy the older worker dilemma in our country, including curtailing age discrimination in hiring and expanding access to transition assistance and lifelong learning. They conclude, "New policies are needed to provide [older workers] with the opportunities for work and a social safety net that reflects the contemporary labor market."

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Do You Need to (or Just Want to) Continue to Work as You Age?

OntheClock Hands-545394_1920There is no telling how the current global coronavirus crisis will impact every Boomer's retirement plan and income. Regardless, the notion of working past retirement age is already a fact for Boomers, many of whom don't even agree on the definition of "retirement age." The traditional retirement age of 65 seems all but ridiculously outdated. So the question really isn't whether or not Boomers need to or want to work past retirement age, but rather how long they are able to generate some sort of income.

I've previously written about the various ways Boomers can do that, from full-time employment (often in businesses they own), to working side jobs, to working part-time. I personally know some Boomers who fully intend to work in one form or another, based on financial need or just to stay active, until they simply cannot physically and mentally do it anymore. There are plenty of stories about people in their 70s and 80s -- and a few rare cases in their 90s -- who continue to work.

Planning for late-stage work is something you can do before you get there, as my colleague Nancy Collamer points out in an article for Forbes. Nancy poses six excellent questions (along with helpful commentary) that you should ask yourself if you need to or want to work as you age:

  1. Does your employer offer a phased retirement program?
    While these types of program are rare, you might be able to negotiate a phase-out with your employer, perhaps working on a part-time basis and mentoring other employees.
  2. What are your income goals?
    The more income you need to or want to earn, the more likely it is that your professional career or past work experience will need to be leveraged in a new income-generating role.
  3. Beyond earning an income, why do you want to work in retirement?
    Nancy suggests making a list of three to five reasons why you want to continue to work -- maybe its community, routine or sense of purpose. Your key motivators will help you pursue the best options moving forward.
  4. What's on your "chuck-it" list?
    You've no doubt heard of the "bucket" list, but the "chuck-it" list is comprised of the things about work you'd be happy to leave behind. Here again, Nancy suggests listing your top three to five non-negotiable work factors -- so you know what you'd like to avoid.
  5. What type of job flexibility do you seek in semi-retirement?
    Understand your lifestyle goals so you can define the type of job that is the best fit for you. Do you need a flexible work schedule? How many days per week do you want to work? Do you want summers off? 
  6. What is your appetite for risk?
    Think about how much risk you are willing to take. Maybe you are in a situation where volunteering will be fulfilling enough and you can risk not generating work-related income. On the other hand, maybe you are ready to take a financial risk by starting your own business, which may involve an investment.

These six questions are an excellent start in framing the answer to the ultimate questions of why and how you will continue to work as you age.

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Still Working Full Time? Get Ready to Be Fired

OntheClock Keyboard-155722_1920In modern-day America, nothing seems to be as tenuous as a Boomer's full-time job. The federal ADEA (Age Discrimination in Employment Act), intended to protect Boomers from employment-related age discrimination, has been found to be largely unenforceable when it comes to layoffs or firings, even if they appear to be motivated by the employee's age. Consider it one more empty government "guarantee" to protect citizens.

Writing for Knowledge@Wharton, Jeff Pundyk, former publisher of The McKinsey Quarterly, claims: "Mid- and late-career management is being hollowed out by consolidation, technology, the gig economy and globalization, leaving experienced workers unprepared to navigate the new world of work. ...Too often when experienced workers who have developed the skills to rise within an organization find themselves displaced or stuck among a shrinking cohort, their skills, expectations, and experience fail them. And the older they are, the greater the risk — and the tougher it can be to find something new."

Unfortunately, this may sound like very familiar territory to accomplished employed Boomers, who are the most vulnerable to the whims of corporate management when it comes time to jettison highly compensated employees. Pundyk writes "Those who can adapt will both shore up their value within their organization and be better prepared should they find themselves on the outs." He offers some excellent advice for Boomers in his article:

  1. Adopt an "untitled mindset."
  2. Develop a portfolio of projects.
  3. Save for the worst case.
  4. Embrace ambiguity.
  5. Always be learning.
  6. Know your story, and
  7. Tell it.

Read Pundyk's insightful article for further details on each of these strategies.

Pundyk's conclusion: "Having a job no longer solves for stability. It can provide some sense of security for as long as it lasts, but don’t mistake short-term security for long-term stability. With the right mindset, however, stability can come from you, not from your employer."

Excellent observations worth pondering.

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Working "On the Side"

OntheClock Piggy-bank-2889046_1920For those retiring Boomers who can put together a number of sources of income to pay the bills, working "on the side" may be an attractive option. It offers flexibility to do other things in retirement.

This creative way of thinking about part-time employment focuses on generating what I call "gravy income" -- income that is not absolutely essential but subsidizes other income. It's even better if working on the side offers the opportunity to pursue gigs, freelancing or contract work (whatever you want to call it) using skills from your past full-time working life. This can be both gratifying and stimulating. 

If that sounds like something for you, take a look at "The Retiree's Guide to Starting a Side Hustle," published by The Balance. Writer Sarah Szczypinski first discusses the steps to "side hustling," including how to coordinate it with Social Security, create an online presence and use your skills. She then provides descriptions of and links to various professional websites that act as entry points to potential work, some of which can be done entirely online. Opportunities include paid mentoring, consulting and all types of contract work. An additional consideration, she says, is to rent out a room or a second home with a service such as Airbnb which can substantially bolster a retiree's income.

Szczypinski writes, "The gig economy isn’t going away, and there’s a sea of opportunity (and income!) available for those who search. Take advantage of flexibility in retirement and dive in. A side hustle can lessen the financial burdens of aging."

Working only when you want on a flexible schedule and generating gravy income sounds like a pretty good post-full-time employment life, doesn't it?

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Proving Age Discrimination in Employment is Too Hard

OntheClock Woman-1246587_1920A recent article in The New York Times got me fired up again about age discrimination in the American workplace, particularly when it comes to hiring and firing practices. I've written about this issue before, providing some links to useful online resources.

The Times article highlights the serious nature of the problem for workers over 50 years old. As the article points out, recent court decisions in age-related anti-discrimination cases have made things harder, not easier, for older workers. It's largely because of the way the federal ADEA (Age Discrimination in Employment Act) works, or doesn't work. As usual, when Congress writes a law, it carries with it loopholes -- and there are plenty of them in ADEA. Proving an employer uses age discrimination to hire or fire someone age 50 or over is difficult, and the legal burden is on the individual to pursue a case that can be very costly. What's more, doing so basically blacklists that individual in the job market.

The Times article cites this sobering fact: "More than half of workers over 50 lose longtime jobs before they are ready to retire..." along with this even more sobering fact: "On average, a 54-year-old job hunter will be unemployed for nearly a year." The article also reveals the experiences of some older job-seekers who faced obvious age discrimination. Some of the cases are startling in terms of what older workers are told by prospective employers; one of them reportedly said, "We are not looking for old white guys." Thankfully, that particular employer, a restaurant chain, was sued and agreed to pay a $2.85 million settlement.

The good news is some organizations are starting to fight back against age discrimination, even if individuals cannot afford to do so. According to the Times article, the Communications Workers of America, a union, has filed a lawsuit accusing hundreds of major employers of "systematic age discrimination in hiring based on targeted online advertising." They are looking at the possibility of class-action lawsuits. Still, a recent court ruling demonstrates an uphill battle: The court found that "recruiting practices that have the effect of screening out older applicants — what is known in legal terms as having a “disparate impact” — did not violate the law."

You would think that, with low unemployment and "Help Wanted" signs proliferating that older workers would be welcomed by employers. Sadly, that is not the case.

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Working Because We Have To

OntheClock Man-111302_1920
If you're over the age of 65 and still working, you are in good company. As reported by Bloomberg, in February 2019, the participation rate of 65-plus workers in the labor force has reached 20 percent for the first time in 57 years. Paradoxically, the Boomers who are most likely to be working are more educated, better off, and healthier, while less educated, working-class Boomers are struggling to remain employed. Those individuals with less than a college education participate in the labor force at a rate of about 10 percent.

Working after the traditional retirement age is becoming the norm for more and more Boomers. While a good percentage of Boomers want to work, many have to work for economic reasons. It is estimated that even the maximum Social Security monthly payment, which a Boomer can draw beginning at age 70, will only replace at most half of one's pre-retirement income. It's a generally accepted fact that, after Boomers stop working altogether, they need about 80 percent of their pre-retirement income to live, according to the Bloomberg report. As I've written in the past, the retirement savings accumulated by most Boomers puts them in a precarious position, especially given the reality that Boomers are living much longer than previous generations. Because of the 2008 recession, Boomers may have lost a significant portion of their retirement portfolio and it has taken years for their savings to recover.

Thankfully, work options do exist for Boomers, even if they are vulnerable in their current positions. A robust economy means far more jobs are available, although a large percentage is, admittedly, in lower paying positions. Still, full-time, part-time, and self-employment opportunities are available. "Gigs," or contract jobs, are also plentiful, and many of them enable Boomers to work from home on a flexible schedule if desired.

As Boomers are well aware, life is all about compromise. If you have to work and you're over 65, you can probably get a job. You just might have to lower your expectations.

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You Deserve a "Respectful Exit"

OntheClockGenerally I stay away from any kind of open endorsement in writing my blog posts, but I feel compelled to tell you about an organization called "Respectful Exits." Led by Paul Rupert, an expert in flexible scheduling and staffing, this nonprofit has initiated a national campaign with local affiliates. Their goal is to get employer practices "to catch up with the new longevity." The Respectful Exits "Longevity Agenda" has the following objectives:

  • End the 65 “sell-by” date as a mandatory or informal “retirement age”

  • Practice career-long development and training of all staff

  • Encourage robust flexible scheduling for employees of all ages

  • Provide ongoing, on-demand financial wellness counseling

  • Implement and promote flexible and phased retirement options.

Respectful Exits has just launched a free online tool called "The Phazer." Here's how the organization describes it:

The guidance in The Phazer™ is based on tools and processes we developed in the phased retirement programs of major companies. Hundreds have used them successfully. While no one can guarantee the success of a given proposal – and there are risks in stepping forward – two truisms apply here: “If you don’t ask, you won’t get” and “You don’t get what you deserve…you get what you negotiate.”

Think of this site as a GPS to the destination of your choice. 

Kudos to Respectful Exits for taking a proactive approach to age discrimination in the workplace. If you are in a situation with an employer where you are being phased out or terminated because of your age, even if you want to continue to work, you should definitely check out Respectful Exits in general and The Phazer specifically. Here are the links to their sites:

https://www.respectfulexits.org/

https://www.thephazer.org/

Have you heard about the new book, Boomer Brands?