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New Study Identifies Strategies to Retain Older Workers

Posted Jul 29 2009 10:46pm

I was a bit surprised  when I received a Robert Wood Johnson email announcing the results of a new study on retaining older workers. But after reading the press release it made sense as the motivation behind the study was to help health care agencies retain " experienced" workers.

From flexible schedules that accommodate “snow birds” in Arizona and seasonal employees in Maine to efforts to encourage employees to participate in the administrative decisions that affect their lives, the “ Wisdom at Work: Retaining Experienced Nurses ” study identifies strategies that strengthen work environments and benefit employees.

While the study focused primarily on identifying ways to retain nurses in health care settings, every company can learn from the study. 

Companies that have successfully retained older workers cite the following reasons for their success ( many of these also apply to keeping all workers happy - not just "experienced" ones ):

  1. Sustained commitments by corporate leadership to keep experienced staff on the job
  2. Innovative approaches to staffing
  3. Employee health and wellness programs
  4. Corporate cultures that value aging
  5. Compensation packages that cater to older workers including offering benefits such as phased retirement options and Flexible work arrangements.


Retaining older workers obviously makes good business sense because:

  • It saves companies costs associated with hiring and training new staff
  • Keeps valuable experience and insight with the company
  • Maintains institutional memory
  • Provides mentoring opportunities to younger employees

Surprisingly, the press release did not mention what I believe to be the most important reason for wanting to retain older workers. With the aging population/workforce many companies will have no choice but to find ways to keep older workers on the payroll (and recruit older workers to fill other full or part-time positions) because of a shortage of  talented younger workers - especially in health care.  Not that young people aren't talented - there is just not enough of them!

Although the study identified no single initiative that was successful at retaining experienced workers at all institutions examined, many companies were successful in implementing a set of initiatives that met employee needs at individual institutions.

The “Wisdom at Work” study gives human resource professionals real-life examples of simple, affordable and easily replicable strategies to keep employees on the job.

Some examples cited in the press release included:

- Flexible scheduling options at L.L. Bean in Maine that allow senior employees to work on a part-time or seasonal basis and swap shifts with fellow workers.

- Flexible work arrangements at Carondelet Health Network in Tucson, Ariz., which has a “snow bird” program that allows registered nurses to work for three, six or nine months at a time—a particularly attractive option among experienced nurses who are in Tucson for only certain parts of the year.

- A mentoring program at Bon Secours Richmond Health System in Virginia that allows experienced RNs to provide clinical and leadership mentoring to new nurses, which has contributed to a consistently low turnover rate among experienced nurses.

- The creation of a “Leadership Cabinet” at Scripps Health in San Diego, where nurse leaders advise administrators on important decisions and act as a conduit for employee concerns.

The Lewin Group served as the National Coordinating Center for this study providing data collection and analysis for the “Wisdom at Work” evaluation. The Lewin Group also developed the seven in-depth case studies of high performing organizations.  To view both, visit www.rwjf.org/goto/wisdomatwork.

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