From a societal perspective, there is a pressing need to make use of the human capital represented in older people. General knowledge and expertise increase with age, as do emotional stability and the motivation to invest in important activities. If appropriately utilized, older populations can benefit national and global economies. Yet the clarion call to workers today is about saving for increasingly long retirements, instead of actively planning to work longer. In the US, the responsibility for saving has shifted to the individual, reflecting the move from defined benefit plans to defined contribution plans. Unfortunately, the change has resulted in considerable undersaving for retirements. In a 2014 Retirement Confidence Survey, only 64% of all workers age 25 and older reported that they and their spouse had saved at all for retirement, a decrease from 75% in 2009. [1] Overall, 60% of workers report that they have less than $25,000 in total savings and investments, with over one third reporting less than $1,000 in total savings.[2] If appropriate steps are not taken, there could be catastrophic economic implications to both individuals and societies, as low retirement savings could lead to major strains on economies.


For those who have inadequate retirement savings, the most obvious solution is to work longer. This approach may hold benefits that extend beyond income to include better physical health and cognitive functioning. One major potential barrier, however, is that employers remain ambivalent about older workers. Currently, most employers’ view older workers as expensive and sometimes less productive than younger workers. Research findings increasingly suggest that the latter reflects stereotypes more than evidence. The productivity of workers tends to increase with age. This is especially true for knowledge workers, yet blue collar workers also can retain (and perhaps increase) productivity.[3] One study that measured the performance of more than 400 McDonald’s restaurants across the UK found that restaurants that employed mixed-age workforces, including workers age 60 and above, delivered an average increase of twenty percent in customer satisfaction levels compared to less age diverse workforces.[4] Moreover, there is a net benefit of intergenerational teams on workplace productivity, including a broader range of skills and experience across the workforce, increased mentorship opportunities and skills transfer, a reduction in turnover, and increased staff morale.[5],[6] Companies that adapt to older workers’ needs using cost-efficient measures such as flexible work arrangements, workplace modifications, and on-the-job training can benefit from age diversity in the workforce. [7] BMW’s older worker production line at Dingolfing is an example of how thoughtful design of blue-collar workplaces can support high levels of productivity in older workers. The company collaborated with its older production workers to tailor one of its most labor intensive manufacturing lines to an average worker age of 47. The resultant line reached its production goals with defect rate and worker absenteeism meeting or exceeding the levels achieved by “younger” lines.[8] The cost of older workers is a real issue for employers. By leveraging older workers as source of human capital, employers can better manage their talent, facilitate knowledge transfer to younger workers, and help older workers slowly phase into retirement. Offering bridge jobs or flexible work arrangements such as flex hours and part-time work will allow employers to retain the expertise of older workers while reducing costs.[9],[10]

[1] Employee Benefit Research Institute. 2014. “2014 Retirement Confidence Survey.”

[2] Ibid.

[3] Burtless, G.(2013).The Impact of Population Aging and Delayed Retirement on Work-force Productivity. Tech. rep., Center for Retirement Research at Boston College.

[4] Department for Work and Pensions (UK). 2011. “Employing Older Worker Case Studies.”

[5] Ilmakunnas et al. “Diversity at the workplace: Whom does it benefit?” Helsinki School of Economics.

[6] Department for Work and Pensions (UK). 2013. “Employing an Older Workforce, An Employer’s Guide to Today’s Multi-generational Workforce.

[7] Brooks. 2014. “Productivity and Age.” Age UK.

[8] Loch, C.H, Sting, F.J, Bauer, N, & Mauermann, H. (2010). How BMW Is Defusing the Demographic Time Bomb. Harvard Business Review, 88(3), 99–102. Retrieved from

[9] CIPD. 2012. “Managing a Healthy Ageing Workforce, A National Business Imperative.”

[10] Backes-Glenner & Veen. 2009. “The Impact of Aging and Age Diversity on Company Performance.” Institute for Strategy and Business Economics, University of Zurich.         Gellner_The_impact_of_aging_and_age_diversity_on_company_performance-V.pdf