What Motivates Older Workers?

As the business events industry — and the workplace as a whole — struggles with staffing shortages, the need to recruit and retain older workers is critical. Some companies are introducing a new perk specifically for that demographic.

Author: Michelle Russell       

grandparents holding child and newborn

One new benefit for older workers that has been making news is grandternity leave. A few companies are starting to offer special paid time off for new grandparents in an effort to retain this demographic.

Inadequate staffing came up as a major pain point in our 2023 Salary Survey. While face-to-face events have come back in full force since the pandemic, the staffing necessary to plan and execute them has not.

In one of his recent Convene Forward Thinking columns, Dave Lutz, CMP, shared that quite a few of his consulting company’s clients are having difficulty finding qualified professionals to fill planner positions. One of his recommendations to fill the gap is to seek out recently retired event professionals. While we don’t have hard data specific to how many event professionals retired early during the pandemic, the Federal Reserve told Congress in March that 2.2 million more U.S. workers retired than the Fed had expected.

Aside from the financial incentive, what would motivate an older worker to return to the workplace — or to remain employed? And how do those motivations differ from those of the other four generations currently in the workforce?

Consulting firm Bain & Company has identified six worker archetypes that reflect our differing motivations at work (you can take a Bain quiz to find which one you are) and offer some clues on how to meet the needs of a multigenerational workforce:

  • Operator — Looks for meaning outside work; often views colleagues as friends
  • Artisan — Seeks out work that fascinates them; motivated by pursuit of mastery
  • Striver — Wants to make something of their life; motivated by status and compensation
  • Giver — Finds meaning in helping others; least motivated by money
  • Explorer — Values freedom and experiences; willing to trade security for flexibility
  • Pioneer — On a mission to change the world and identifies profoundly with their work

According to Bain, as workers age, they begin to prioritize interesting work, flexibility, and autonomy, and far more of them fall into the Artisan and Giver archetypes. Understanding how to create environments and roles that speak to these motivations is step one for employers seeking older workers.

Beyond that, having specific programs in place to support or integrate older workers — like cross-mentoring or benefits that appeal to them at their particular life/career stage — would go far, although it’s rare to find them among employers, according to Bain.

One brand-new benefit for older workers that has been popping up in the headlines is grandternity leave. A few companies are starting to offer special paid time off — which could be several days or weeks — for new grandparents in an effort to retain this demographic.

Quartz identified several in a recent article: cybersecurity company SentinelOne, finance company Fannie Mae, and online travel agency Booking.com. A recent article in The Wall Street Journal cites tech company Cisco, financial services firm Mercer, and HR platform HireVue.

Grandparent leave isn’t just an incentive to maintain an older workforce. It acknowledges the realities of multigenerational family care. In the U.S., according to Quartz, more than 7 million grandparents live with grandchildren under the age of 18, and half of those grandparents are employed. “In a nation whose own government calls the cost of childcare ‘untenable,’” writes Quartz, “policies that allow employees to spend time with new grandchildren can also help working parents balance caretaking among more members of the family.”

Employees ages 50-plus make up more than one-third of the U.S. workforce today, and “we don’t see that declining any time soon,” Carly Roszkowski, AARP’s vice president of financial resilience, told The Journal. The segment of the labor force made up of people ages 75 or older is expected to nearly double over the next decade in the U.S., according to federal projections. These kinds of stats make grandparent leave a benefit we may see becoming more mainstream.

Michelle Russell is editor in chief of Convene.

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