22. February 2019

Ageing and employment: Decommissioning is not popular

How to successfully integrate older employees

Older employees are expensive, inflexible, and less productive, at least according to prevalent preconceptions. Despite the fact that the those over the age of 50 are particularly affected by dismissals there is no employment protection legislation (EPL) for older employees in Switzerland. In 2045 more than a quarter of the Swiss population will be 65 and older. Not only will this demographic trend lead to a higher retirement age, but it will also have an effect on how people plan for retirement and the years leading up to it. When skilled labor is scarce older staff can be a valuable resource for companies – still a fact that is often overlooked. What concepts have been successful in integrating employees older than 50? We have asked Judith Lenz-Wehrle, Head of Finance & Services and site manager at HakaGerodur.



8 questions for Judith Lenz-Wehrle, Head of Finance & Services and site manager at HakaGerodur

1. What are the benefits of employing older employees and how can their strengths be leveraged?

Older employees tend to be more loyal. Self-fulfillment at work is less of an issue compared to the younger generation. They are persistent problem solvers, which benefits teams with a good age mix. When work is allocated according to strengths peer support often follows.

2. Life-long experience versus digitalization and change in values – how can older employees keep up?

With us it’s not so much a question of age than of intellect and learning capacity. Increasing digitalization will push employees of all age groups to their limits.

3. Older employees have other goals in life. How can I mobilize and motivate my direct reports?

We expect employees irrespective of their age to identify with our company and the corporate goals and to want to contribute. We see no use in special motivational methods for older employees. If people are no longer motivated at work things get tricky. In difficult stages of life (e.g. when looking after family members) superiors help find solutions that are acceptable to all sides. As long as work motivation is still there we are ready to reduce workloads and/or to talk about a shift in responsibilities.

4. How can older employees be integrated into generally younger teams, and what measures ensure integration and acceptance?

Integration into a team doesn’t so much depend on age than on the character of a person.

5. Staff reductions mostly affect older employees. What can personnel developers do to keep older employees longer in the job?

To encourage older employees to see to their employability, i.e. to follow trainings and to stay on top of professional trends.

6. Older employees are expensive. What needs to change in companies but also in politics so that older employees are not put at a disadvantage?

The prevailing expectation that salaries keep rising year after year until retirement is not ok. Awareness about this should be raised within the company, but it is also a topic for the public debate. Employees in this age bracket will have to become more flexible regarding salary expectations. A particular challenge here are the savings contributions for the pension fund which increase with age. One should reach for a solution where legal stipulations do not add to the labor costs.

7. What best practices are there for older employees who cannot afford early retirement?

We are proactive in addressing the desired retirement age. At managerial level having an early/timely succession plan has been useful. It allows older employees to hand over part of their responsibility and/or to reduce their workload. We have seen them handle this step very well and by and large appreciate the easing of the burden – especially if their know-how is still valued.

8. To what extent were you and your older employees helped by EAP?

In the past four years or so we have had three cases: two people contacted Proitera on their own initiative, one person was referred by us. I remember one case in particular. A longstanding and highly esteemed employee close to 60 years showed a very rapid deterioration in his performance. In the perception of his team he seemed to have aged very fast, becoming forgetful, very slow and unfocused. Proitera convinced him to seek medical care. He had indeed fallen ill and the termination of the employment relationship became unavoidable. Proitera involved his social environment and supported him in social insurance matters (disability insurance/pension fund). The employee was unattached, but never left to his own devices in this very difficult process. A fall into the poverty trap could be avoided thanks to EAP support.

As his superiors we were relieved to know he was in good hands. The entire work environment realized that we wouldn’t simply drop any of our employees if they had a problem.

We have less information on the two other cases. Both were looking for support regarding working hours and the transition into retirement. Their personal situation had also been adversely impacted by serious illness.

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