Older Americans want to keep working

by Adelle Chua19 Sep 2017
There is a trend to encourage older employees to extend their careers, or retirees to return. According to the American Working Conditions Survey (ACWS), baby boomers are reaching retirement age, the social security system is stretched economic growth is slowing.

But would they even want to?

More than half of former employees aged 50 and above who are not working and not searching for jobs say they might consider doing so -- if the right conditions came along.

The study, conducted by Nicole Maestas, Kathleen J. Mullen, David Powell, Till von Wachter, Jeffrey B. Wenger polled 3,131 older workers (50 and older) and prime-age workers (35-49).

So what would make older employees want to keep working, and retirees to return?

Meaningful work
Meaningful work is a key reason that older workers delay retirement. According to the AWCS, more than two-thirds of older workers reported that they felt satisfaction over work well done and felt that they were doing useful work.

Older workers are more likely than prime-age workers to say that they apply their own ideas and solve unforeseen problems in their work. Older workers are also less likely than prime-age workers to say that they perform monotonous tasks.

Flexibility
For older workers, flexibility – in hours of work and the ability to schedule one’s working hours, enabling one to manage conflicts between work and family life – is important. Formal benefits – dental insurance, for instance, or life insurance, or paid time off – were not as essential as, say, having some form of control over how they do their work and the ability to set their pace.

Constructive relationships
According to the survey, older workers want support from co-workers and supervisors and a supportive work environment. However, they don’t see themselves getting it. “Older workers are less likely — by 5 to 6 percentage points — than younger workers to report that their boss is supportive, cooperation with colleagues is good, and conflicts are resolved fairly.”

Less strenuous physical environment
With age comes the decline of stamina, strength, balance, vision and hearing. All these would naturally be a factor in older workers’ decision to keep working, or to return to work.

According to the survey, older workers are less likely to work at high speed, are more likely to be able to take breaks when they want and have fewer external factors (like a boss, clients, or targets) determining their pace of work.

Interestingly, older workers are less likely than younger workers to sit all day on the job.

The AWCS recommends that companies keep older Americans engaged by giving them working conditions that are aligned with what they want.


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