More employees are working beyond traditional retirement years. But is the insurance industry prepared to accommodate?
There was a time when you’d work until you were 65, get a watch and a pat on the back, and head into retirement. In fact, just 25 years ago, only one in 10 workers planned to work beyond age 65.
Today, that number has risen beyond 50 percent, according to the 16th Annual Transamerica Retirement Survey. Of those surveyed, 82 percent of workers aged 60 and beyond expect to or are already working past age 65.
The Boomer generation is breaking the traditional boundaries of retirement, and the reasons are myriad. On average, Boomers are better educated, hold higher-paid positions and are more physically fit than their parents.
But they’re possibly not as financially prepared to retire as previous generations were.
Financial pressures on the older workforce are greater as many older workers stretch their savings to help support college-aged children as well as care for aging parents.
It’s not simply financial reasons that cause older workers to want to continue to work.
The AARP Public Policy Institute found that the desire to remain active and make a contribution are also important factors. Basically, they’re still working because they want to.
But not surprisingly, retiring Boomers want their remaining work years to have more life-work balance. With years of institutional knowledge and current technology, they want to transition those skills into a job that allows them the ability to work from home and enjoy more time in their retirement. Yet few insurance firms have adapted to this new reality.
That could be a misstep that costs the insurance industry dearly in terms of lost talent.
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that 74 percent of insurance professionals are aged 55 or older. Currently, one-fourth of insurance professionals are within five-to-ten years of retirement. It behooves the industry to retain the knowledge and talent of the older workforce for as long as possible.
Yet misperceptions of the older worker are getting in the way.
AARP reveals that employers are concerned that older workers:
Aren’t up-to-date on technology;
Can’t handle the job’s physical demands;
Are contemplating retirement;
Don’t adjust quickly to change;
Don’t fit with the workplace culture;
Cost more in terms of benefit costs, and;
Need more sick days and health-related benefits.
Employers view older workers as burned out, slow to adapt, less healthy, and unable to work with younger colleagues.
Ironically, insurance firms often cite ‘finding and keeping qualified staff’ as their top challenge, and will concede that losing talented, experienced older workers is just as big a concern.
And while they note that hiring millennials is just part of the solution, they also realize the transfer of knowledge is a large gap they need to fill.
Why Older Can Be Better
Studies show that such perceptions are misguided, and that the knowledge gap, in many cases, is easily solved.
That’s because the older workforce brings much more than knowledge to the job.
Research conducted by the University of Kentucky found that companies are coming round to the value an older worker can bring to the job.
Employers in the study listed the following perceived benefits of hiring older workers:
Dedication to the company
Customer service focus
Strong work ethic
According to a recent AARP/Aon Hewitt report, these employers are right.
The report found that 65 percent of employees aged 55 and over are engaged in the workplace, which is higher than their younger counterparts whose level of engagement topped out at 60 percent.
As the report suggests, a 5 percent increase in employee engagement equals a 3 percent incremental revenue growth.
Also, the report found that the 50-and-over workforce is not significantly more expensive than the younger workforce, and that the older workers have the added advantage of experience, professionalism, and knowledge to bring to the table. Plus, older workers, the study shows, have a strong work ethic and a lower rate of turnover.
The fear that older workers will retire is valid, yet many workers 50 years and older aren’t even thinking about it.
The study shows that the reason employees remain working past age 50, beyond financial reasons, is the psychological and social satisfaction they get from the work.
Courting the Veteran Worker
So it would greatly benefit the insurance industry to retain the talent that helped them achieve success.
That means giving older workers the opportunity to continue to contribute.
According to The Sloan Center on Aging & Work at Boston College, that means making sure the 50-and-over crowd has opportunities for meaningful work (a key reason many cite as why they’re still working), and that employers are promoting constructive work relationships.
The insurance industry has a great challenge ahead as the older generation of workers considers their professional futures.
It’s also an opportunity – insurance firms that change their attitudes toward the 50-and-over workforce and reinvent “business as usual” can capitalize on the immense benefits that come from holding on to knowledge and expertise.
So, What Can You Do?
WAHVE is helping reimagine both staffing and retirement in the insurance industry, and bridges the gap between insurance agency staffing needs and seasoned professionals’ work-life balance preferences as they phase into retirement.
About the author
Sharon Emek, Ph.D., CIC, is the CEO and founder of Work At Home Vintage Experts (WAHVE), an innovative contract staffing talent solution.
WAHVE matches retiring insurance professionals leaving the regular workforce to insurance firms to meet their full- or part-time staffing needs. Insurance firms benefit by improving productivity and lowering costs. WAHVE’s unique qualifying process and technology platform match the right “pretirees” wherever they may live to the needs of insurance firms wherever they are located.