My dad worked as an insurance agent for the same company his entire life. He used to employ me as a child to do some filing for him when I needed some extra cash. As he neared retirement age—just months before he died of cancer but before he knew he was ill—that company decided he wasn’t cutting it anymore and told him he had to close his office. I remember well because I went with him to California to talk with someone in the corporate offices about keeping it open, but they replaced him anyway.
Times have changed. While many of us don’t stay at one company for our whole careers, we still have given some of our best work and ideas to our companies. The sad truth is that often we can’t afford to retire as early as we did once upon a time. A Gallup study showed that the average American plans to retire at 66, which is six years longer than it was 20 years ago. Some simply cannot afford to retire while others choose not to.
Whatever the reason for wanting to stay on, this can be a difficult time for employees. But it can also be difficult for companies. Sometimes performance drops. Sometimes aging employees are not as productive as they once were. But many of them gave their best years, and it feels like a betrayal to feel forced out before they’re ready.
Even if you’ve noticed numbers not where they once were, your company can benefit from these experienced employees’ knowledge. Why not try to find a more suitable position for them? Talk to them openly, and ask if they’d like working as a mentor or trainer for new employees. Some of these people are truly experts on what it takes to be successful at your company, and it can be very gratifying to see the influence they’ll have on others’ professional development. You may consider other roles that are less intense but where they can still use the knowledge they’ve gained over the years.
A company out of Oklahoma City, Devon Energy, incentivizes employees to stick around by offering a retirement match plan that increases the longer an employee has been at the company. They see the value of the knowledge and experience these employees continue to offer the company.
Another place you can focus your efforts is on creating a retirement plan that says “thank you” for many years of dedication to your company. As we discussed earlier, many employees cannot retire because their finances do not allow it. A strong retirement plan or pension can help.
Usually when we think of retirement plans, we think of 401(k)s. Of course, a 401(k) (and match) plan show employees you care about them now for their future. And sometimes employees’ priorities change as they age. For example, from a study we conducted last year, we learned a lower salary becomes steadily more accepted as employees age. However, lack of benefits becomes more annoying to them. They’re realizing how very important retirement plans, disability and health coverage are.
But if employees didn’t opt in to these benefits years before retirement, that 401K plan doesn’t do much good. That’s why it’s important for HR to educate employees on seeing the big picture now and begin investing when it seems so far away so they’ll be taken care of in the future. You may even consider offering free financial services to help employees plan for the future.
Some companies go above the expected 401K to include even more. One company (Mitre) offers a generous pension plan that pays employees 80 -100 percent of their salary after they retire. Another company (Publix) gives their employees a stock ownership plan that gives them an annual return. And the insurance company Aflac offers their retired employees the same health and life insurance plans that their other employees get.
Of course not all companies can do all of these things, but it gives you an idea of different ways you can value and appreciate your employees until they’re ready to move on. And your employees will leave with mutual appreciation for your company.