Companies rethink policies on older workers

Some companies are taking a new approach to an aging workforce. (Toronto Star)

Aging workers are staying on the job longer before they retire, and companies are hiring older workers with experience as they face a skills shortage. Seeing this, businesses are starting to realize they need to be better prepared when it comes to human resource policies for older workers.

Statistics Canada’s latest jobs report released Friday found that workers aged 55 and older fared better in finding new jobs than other age groups. And the Supreme Court of Canada has agreed to hear an age discrimination complaint from a Vancouver lawyer who is refusing to retire from his firm at 68.

While young workers and recent graduates struggle to find jobs, older employees are becoming a bigger part of the workforce in part because they’re living longer, healthier lives and staying in the labour force many more years.

As well, workers with more skills and experience fare much better in a recovering economy after recession-ravaged businesses scaled back hiring a few years ago because of sluggish growth prospects.

There are no hard and fast rules when it comes to retirement, and there is currently a grey area in the crystal ball of the Canadian workforce — who is it going to be comprised of down the road?

Some companies are finding the weight of an older worker’s experience will tip the scales in their favour when faced with the decision of hiring older or younger staff.

“If you actually look at people who are ‘retired,’ you’ll find a surprisingly large number of them not just working, but working full time,” University of Toronto management professor Hugh Gunz told “Mostly because they want to.”

It’s a situation that’s becoming more common across the country. But in some cases companies will persuade older, higher salaried workers to retire in an effort to save money.

Gunz thinks that could be short-term thinking. “[Older workers] can be very valuable employees if they’re still functioning well,” he said. “Depending on the occupation, these older folk may be better than the youngsters.”

However, older workers do not have the years left in them that younger hires do, and it may lead to another shortage in a few years when they retire — for good.

Gunz said that when it came to advice for human resource managers, there are very few hard rules. “So much depends on the nature of the occupation,” he said, citing the examples of a fire fighter, armed services or airline pilot’s general fitness and visual acuity. “That’s critical.”

For many HR managers, the situation might simply come down to hard questions about the value of experience and the cost of long-time employees versus bringing in new talent for training and ensuring the future of the company. “I don’t think any simple recipe makes any kind of sense because the industries differ and occupations differ.”

Gunz said that age-specific mandatory retirement will become far less common. “No finance minister anywhere in the world wants compulsory retirement anymore,” he said. “It just doesn’t make any sense.”

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