Older Workers Have Started The “Great Retirement" — But For Many, Not By Choice

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You’ve likely heard of the Great Resignation — where workers are quitting in droves to find better opportunities in a job seeker’s market. 

But not all of these resignations are people in pursuit of greener pastures. Some are older workers who feel like they’re being forced to retire.

Deemed the “Great Retirement,” older workers are leaving the workforce at higher rates than before the pandemic. According to the Institute for Economic Equity, there were 3.3 million more retirees in October 2021 than in January 2020 — a 7% increase. Half of people aged 55 or older — or 50.3% — were out of the workforce due to retirement by October 2021; before the pandemic, 48% of people this age were retired.

Some older people who returned during this period cite health fears due to the pandemic. Some even say they didn’t need the money after the stock market boomed. But recent research shows some left the workforce because they felt they didn’t have any ability to stay in it — because companies were essentially forcing them to retire, either by edging them out or refusing to hire them.

There’s a disconnect between what companies say about older workers and what they actually do to include and support them. According to a recent McKenzie Delis Review (MDR) on Diversity and Inclusion, 70% of companies have specific measures in their recruitment process to reduce age bias, but only 14% have training geared towards older workers in their current workforce.

Companies may be trying to hire older workers, but even if they do, they’re not doing the work necessary to retain them.

Retaining older workers looks like dedicated training, one that invests in upskilling. Just because older workers have years of experience doesn’t mean they can’t — and don’t want to — learn and try new skills.

It also looks like offering them benefits that they value. 

“Older workers aren't looking for trendy benefits like pet insurance or shorter workweeks…‘They want to be supported on things like elder care for their parents,’” Charlotte Flores, SHRM-CP, vice president of HR at BH Cos said to SHRM

And they don’t just want benefits to show that they’re valued. They want their team and company to show they value them, too.

“‘They want to be acknowledged for their dedication and given opportunities to do meaningful work,” Flores said.

Older employees — like all employees — want and deserve to be valued. And it’s an employer’s job to make them feel that way, even if they need to change or dedicate their efforts to specifically cater to older generations.

In an era of record resignations, including retirements, it’s imperative for employers to look closely at why their employees are leaving and understand how they can make them stay. Employees of different roles, departments, generations, races, genders, abilities and locations need different support from their employers. There’s no one-size-fits-all answer for how to retain employees. 

But by offering specialized resources employees really need and want — like for older workers, training and benefits with their specific needs in mind — employers can potentially hold onto the workers they value for a little longer.


This article reflects the views of the author and not necessarily those of Fairygodboss.

What do you think companies should do to retain older workers? Share your answer in the comments to help other Fairygodboss members!