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Corporations woo baby boomers
With more than 1 in 4 workers eyeing retirement, companies scramble to keep valued employees.
September 30, 2005: 7:46 AM EDT
By Shaheen Pasha, CNN/Money staff writer

NEW YORK (CNN/Money) - Corporate America is finally waking up to the extensive experience mature employees bring to the table and placing value on the benefits of retaining older workers.

With more than one worker out of four reaching retirement age by the end of the next decade, corporations are now in a mad dash to create a work environment that will convince older employees to forgo the leisurely pleasures of the golf course for the frenetic pace of the office.

"We saw these demographic trends coming but business often has a short-term mentality," said Lorrie Foster, who directs research on work place trends at the Conference Board. "Not a lot of companies were prepared and now they are feeling a lot of pain."

In a recent study, the Conference Board, a New York-based business research group, determined that the energy, health care and government sectors, in particular, are facing the biggest risk of a significant brain drain by end of the decade.

As a result, more companies are looking to keep older workers by investing in training programs and flexible work schedules, and offering to hire retiring employees on a consultant basis.

"While older employees do tend to be higher paid and can incur higher health care costs, employers are realizing that there is a trade-off in losing that knowledge from the organization," said Emmett Seaborn, a principle at Towers Perrin, an executive consulting firm.

He said some companies would be willing to give older workers more flexibility while also trying to control costs.

Wooing older workers

Butch Hawking, managing director at Kaye Bassman International, said the Dallas-based executive search firm is actively seeking to keep its baby boomer employees many of whom are considered to be among its top performers.

"It's on a case-by-case basis, but we have individuals working flex hours, part-time, telecommuting and we've exhausted every known resource to accommodate our employees," he said. "It's a balance of love and profits because we know the cost of losing a bona fide superstar can be troubling."

Employers are also paying attention to the issue as they try to fill in gaps in the work force as older, more experienced workers leave.

AARP recently released its 2005 list of the 50 best employers for those over 50. (For the full list, click here.)

Among the factors evaluated: opportunities for employee development, the average age of the work force and whether the company provides flexible work arrangements for older employees.

Deere & Co (Research)., Whirlpool (Research) and Hartford Financial Services Group (Research) were among the publicly traded companies to make the list.

Jennifer Schramm, manager of work place trends and forecasting at the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM), said employers are finding it easier to score points with employees by allowing them to fix a schedule that's accommodating for their changing lifestyles.

That can include so-called telecommuting, or working form home, as well as part-time work at the office, or a combination of both.

From a corporate standpoint, there are financial perks in allowing an older worker to come in on a part-time basis. As part-timers, generally, don't receive the same health benefits as a full-time staff worker, companies can save a few dollars and still retain the expertise of a seasoned employee, experts said.

A recent survey by SHRM indicated that one in 10 companies reported offering a reduced schedule prior to full retirement to allow older workers a way to ease into retirement while passing along institutional knowledge to others.

"Keeping a retired employee on a consultant basis is also becomingly increasingly popular," Schramm said. "Forty-one percent of our members report that they are either doing it or are thinking of doing it."

The Conference Board's Foster added that corporations are looking to bring back retirees to train younger employees and other corporations, such as drug retailer CVS (Research), are actively recruiting older workers to appeal to older customers.

Increased on-the-job training

Corporations are also offering older workers new opportunities.

Gerry Lupacchino, vice president of client services at Novations/J. Howard, a consulting firm, said workers are often marginalized as they approached retirement age, given the perception among some that mature workers are a diminished resource.

But now more corporations are choosing to "rehire" older employees by involving them in mentoring programs, giving them access to coaching, strategy development and research programs.

It's a win-win for employers and employees, he said.

"Why employees stay with a company has less to do with compensation and more to do with the importance, influence and recognition a company bestows," Lupacchino said.

"If employees are engaged and allowed to work with others and share knowledge, its less likely that companies will lose their brain trust to retirement."

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