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Aug. 17, 2022, 4:54 p.m. EDT

Planning to keep working as you age? How to hang on to the job you love.

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By Jessica Hall

Staying healthy, keeping job skills up-to-date and taking classes to learn new skills are the top ways to stay relevant no matter where you are in your career, employers said in a recent study. The problem is that workers aren’t necessarily doing these things.

In a recent study by the Transamerica Institute, employers’ top recommendations to help ensure employees can work as long as they need and want to include some basic tips that any employee should do. 

Read: How to get boomers and younger generations to work better together

“Our working lives and our careers are a journey. There are things we need to do every step of the way, from entering the workforce to building our careers through the final years of working. And there’s a lot of missed opportunities,” said Catherine Collinson, chief executive and president of nonprofit Transamerica Institute and Transamerica Center for Retirement Studies. “Start now. You don’t want to wait until your 40th or 50th or 60th birthday to start these things.”

Read: ‘I needed something to do’: How working in retirement is being embraced by older adults and companies

Employers’ top recommendations were to stay healthy and keep their job skills up-to-date (both 64%), while 61% of employers say that workers should perform well at their current job. Taking new classes, networking, attending virtual conferences or webinars, or obtaining a new degree or certification or professional designation also were among the top tasks employers saw as important.

When asked about what steps they are taking, workers most often indicated they are staying healthy so they can continue working, and they were keeping their job skills up-to-date (54% and 47%, respectively.) But only 26% of workers were taking classes to learn new skills and 26% were networking and meeting new people. A total of 16% of workers were not taking any steps, the study found. The study included a survey of 1,874 employers and 5,493 workers.

“People have competing priorities with time. People are spending a lot of time doing their job, and sometimes they’re finding they have to invest their own time to invest in their careers,” Collinson said.

Read: After 50 years of progress, how prepared are women for retirement?

Keeping skills sharp throughout a career becomes increasingly important as people expect to live and work longer. 

The study found that today’s workers are planning to live to age 85, with 12% planning to live to age 100 or older. The survey compared workers’ planned life expectancy with the expected retirement age and found that 25 years was the median number of years workers expect to spend in retirement.

“With people planning to live to 100 or more, we’re redefining what it means to retire. It’s more of a transition, not a finite division where you’re working full time one day and not working at all the next,” Collinson said. 

If someone is planning on retiring at 65 and lives to 105, they would spend almost as much time in the workforce as in retirement.

“How does one save enough to fund a 40-year retirement in a 43 year working career? The numbers don’t add up,” Collinson said. “The world is changing quickly. Someone who decides to retire at 65 and live to 105, what will the world look like then? Forty years is a long time.”

“There’s an old saying that your first job is the hardest job to get because you don’t have work experience and contacts yet,” Collinson said. “Imagine retiring early and realizing you had to go back to work and jumping back into the workforce at 70?” 

More than eight in 10 employers (81%) agree they are supportive of their employees working past age 65, including 42% that strongly agree and 39% that somewhat agree. 

Another disconnect the study found was that employers thought of themselves as age-friendly, while workers didn’t see them that way. 

“Employers may lack a certain self-awareness,” Collinson said. 

While most employers (84%) considered their companies to be “age friendly” by offering opportunities, work arrangements, and training and tools needed for employees of all ages to be successful, only 65% of workers considered their employers to be so. This gap was consistent across company size, the study found. 

Only 34% of employers had adopted a formal diversity and inclusion (D&I) policy statement that specifically includes age among other commonly referenced demographic characteristics. 

Among employers that do not include age as a component of their D&I policy statement, 29% plan to adopt one in the future and 30% do not plan to do so. Large and medium companies were more likely than small companies to have adopted a D&I policy statement referencing age.

Historically, employers’ recruiting practices overlooked older workers, but change may be on the way, the study suggested.

Among those recruiting employees during the pandemic, almost six in 10 employers gave “a great deal” or “quite a bit” of consideration to age 50+ job applicants versus younger applicants. 

“Older workers and experienced workers aged 50 and older represent a huge untapped potential. They are historically an overlooked opportunity for hiring and retaining workers,” Collinson said.

Large and medium companies were more likely to have done so than small companies. More small companies indicated their company has not had any age 50+ job applicants, compared with medium and large companies. 

“The power of a multigenerational workforce is that it brings together different ideas, passions, and skills and it’s a dynamic way to share ideas and collaboration opportunities,” Collinson said.

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