Phased Retirement Excites Workers, Not Employers

Despite all the recent attention to, and discussions about, phased retirement for Baby Boomers, a new study indicates some employers aren’t jumping for joy about the prospect of keeping older workers on the job.

That was a key finding from two surveys of 400 nationally representative employers conducted by the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College and researchers Andrew Eschtruth, Steven Sass and Jean-Pierre Aubry.

Researchers conducted the polls to gauge employers’ willingness to employ older workers despite concerns about whether they will prove to be more costly to keep on the payroll and whether they can adapt to new workplace technology.

Employers were asked whether they would create opportunities for a “significant number” of workers to remain on the job two to four years longer than work­ers have in the past – with a “significant number” defined as at least half who want to stay. On a scale from one to 10, with one being “highly unlikely” and 10 “highly likely,” the median response was a six.

The second survey found that employers expect that half their employ­ees over age 50 will lack the resources needed to retire at their organization’s traditional retirement age; and half of those who lack resources will want to work at least two years longer than similar workers have in the past.

“Employers surveyed expect one quarter of workers currently in their 50s will be unprepared for retirement and will respond by wanting to stay on the job at least two years past the firm’s traditional retirement age,’ researchers wrote. “But employers are lukewarm about retaining even half. This is not good news. It suggests the possibility of a messy and uncomfortable mismatch with large numbers of older workers wanting to stay on while employers prefer that they do not.’

The analysis found that companies are more likely to accommodate older workers if they expect employment growth, value older workers’ institu­tional knowledge and/or have older workforces. The negatives: employ­ers that view older workers as costly and/or operate in an environment where the pace of technical change is slow were less likely to say that they would accom­modate older workers.

The survey asked employers to characterize the effect on the organization’s knowledge base if a significant number of older workers remained on the job two to four years longer than workers had in the past. Two thirds of respondents rated the impact as somewhat or highly positive.

To gauge the effect of technology on the ability of employees to work past the traditional retire­ment age, one survey asked employers to characterize the pace of technical change in their organization as low, moderate, or high. Some 12% responded “low,’ most (51%) responded “moderate,’ and the remainder (37%) reported a “high’ pace of change.

Finally, one survey asked employers to estimate the effect on labor costs if a signifi­cant number of older workers stayed on the job past the traditional retirement age. On a scale from one to five, with one “highly positive’ and five “highly nega­tive,’ the median response was three and the average 3.2 — somewhat negative.

“As the negative effect on the employer’s finances rises, the likelihood of creating opportunities for older employees to stay declines,’ the researchers concluded.

The survey report is here.