Isn’t it time for a “best employers” list that puts older workers front and center? Think about it. There are lists of best companies for women, for millennials, for supporting diversity. For people with disabilities, for dads, for parents generally. So where is the list for employees who are nearing the end of their careers—or are simply thinking ahead?
This is not a frivolous question.
Older workers often have years of learning and institutional understanding behind them. They may well have more time and energy to devote to work than younger workers, who are more likely to be in a life stage involving caregiving responsibilities. Plus, many of the negative truisms tossed about concerning older workers have no basis in reality. For example, stereotypes aside, older workers can be just as proficient with technology as younger workers—and, thanks to their experience, more patient when things go wrong. And older workers are not necessarily more expensive: studies show they have half the turnover rate and use fewer sick days than younger workers.
Why Best Workplace Lists Matter
“Best workplace” lists do more than just burnish employers’ reputations and provide signposts for job-hunters. By their very existence, they continuously raise the bar for what makes a great place to work. For most lists, the questions companies must respond to and the data they must provide are constantly being revised as competing organizations introduce more sophisticated programs and policies.
For example, companies applying for Working Mother’s 100 Best Companies list once had no minimum policy requirements for eligibility. A few years ago, list administrators introduced a minimum application requirement of at least one week’s fully paid maternity leave. For next year’s list, the requirement has been raised to two weeks. Another example: a few years ago, companies applying to Fortune’s 100 Best Places to Work For list could boast about programs that were only available to senior executives, or to headquarters employees. Today, programs that reach only a subset of employees score a lot lower than those that reach everyone.
So a “best companies for older workers” list would be much more than a feel-good opportunity for participating organizations. It would be a great way to promote the particular programs, policies and practices that make it easier for employees to continue working and contributing well past traditional notions of retirement age. It could focus on such things as: a true, workable, phased retirement policy—ideally built on an organization-wide culture of flexibility. Continuous development for employees, no matter what their age. A culture of inclusion and respect. Reverse or intergenerational mentoring. A strong program of financial wellness counselling.
Interestingly, as Respectful Exits’ CEO, Paul Rupert, has pointed out, pretty much everything on this list is good not just for older workers, but for workers of every age.
The Current Landscape
I should note that I have uncovered a few lists that claim to be about older workers (there may be more, but I haven’t found them). One, published by Glassdoor, consists solely of companies that have signed the AARP Pledge to hire people over 50. Age discrimination in hiring is real, but I’d say avoiding it is a pretty low bar for defining an older-worker-friendly workplace.
A second list, published by Monster, goes a step further, focusing on the workplace culture and experience of current employees. But it does so based on a thoroughly unscientific collection of comments, culled from employees who have chosen to weigh in. Not exactly a rigorous, trust-worthy process. Finally, a list published by “Age Smart Employer,” an initiative affiliated with Columbia University, does what appears to be a good job of looking seriously at the factors that make a workplace aging-friendly—but it is limited to New York City employers.
I’ve been told that a few years ago AARP did try to launch a “best companies for older workers” list, but was foiled by its inability to find enough companies that were doing anything at all to support this group. Now that Baby Boomers are reaching age 65 at the rate of 10,000 a day, marching right off the cliff into a retirement that many don’t want or can’t afford—while depriving employers of a valuable resource—isn’t it time to take another look?