Do retailers need a different retention strategy for older workers?

Discussion
Photo: Getty Images/FG Trade
Jan 04, 2023

According to a recent McKinsey survey of U.S. retail workers, a lack of supportive colleagues was the leading cause of attrition for those 45 and older while ranking as the eighth most important factor for those under 35.

Issues around supportive colleagues include feeling unfairly treated, overworked or working with unreliable people. By comparison, the top driver of attrition for retail workers under 35, lack of career development, was the fifth most important factor for employees 45 and older.

Retail’s workforce skews young. The average age of an employed retail cashier is 33 years old, according to career guidance site Zippia.

For retailers, the biggest opportunity may be related to changes in retirement age. Many Americans in their sixties and seventies continue to work as life expectancy rates rise. Aging boomers often work to stay mentally sharp and purpose-driven, and recent inflationary pressures are said to be causing some to delay retirement.

In a recent column for Bloomberg, opinion columnist Amy Yee wrote, “More mature employees also bring a wealth of experience, such as knowing how to deal with customers.”

Ms. Yee said shorter, flexible hours are appealing to older workers looking for flexibility to care for grandchildren and other relatives, and points out that “not all older people will be able to lift heavy loads or stand for long periods.” She also said many are looking to learn new skills.

In a recent column for Harvard Business Review, professors led by the University of Southern California’s Paul Irving wrote that frontline businesses looking to attract older workers need to shift their focus from “transactional relationships with employees to relationships of empathy and understanding.”

Their survey of 35,000 older U.S. employees found many looking for roles with social purpose. Prof. Irving wrote, “Organizations in every industry can elevate purpose and design more meaningful roles.”

Older workers are also looking for effective communication and awareness of ageism bias that are both often shortcomings with younger managers. More than two-thirds of the older survey respondents further prioritize camaraderie. Prof. Irving wrote, “A fun-loving workplace where employees enjoy each other’s company can mean a lot to the frontline experience.”

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: Should retention efforts differ significantly for older retail workers versus younger ones? What suggestions would you have for reducing turnover among workers 45 and older?

Please practice The RetailWire Golden Rule when submitting your comments.
Braintrust
"Every employee is different and must be managed that way. It takes a big investment in time and effort but it is worth it."
"Older workers, I have found, have even less tolerance and more wisdom about what their options are..."
"Older workers want many of the same things all workers want: respect, flexibility, and competitive pay for time worked."

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14 Comments on "Do retailers need a different retention strategy for older workers?"


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Mark Ryski
BrainTrust

It’s clear that older workers have different needs, and so retention efforts should be adjusted accordingly. Given the ongoing challenges of attracting and retaining frontline retail workers, I believe that more focus should be put on mature workers and their needs. Health benefits and flex time are two that would likely be among the top requirements.

Bob Phibbs
BrainTrust

Older workers grew up giving their all. They didn’t just skip out on work. They didn’t quiet quit. They did the job. Having to work in an atmosphere of tasks and delays adds instability to one’s day. I’m not sure how much anyone other than the employee is responsible for creating “a fun-loving” workplace. Adding stability, vetting anyone who works there, and speaking to each front-line worker goes a long way.

Richard Hernandez
BrainTrust

Every employee is different and must be managed that way. It takes a big investment in time and effort but it is worth it.

Dave Bruno
BrainTrust

In a word, empathy, is what will improve retention for employees of all ages. When managers and executives have an understanding that we are all individuals and attempt to stay attuned to the needs and unique talents of each employee as an individual, retention will follow.

Ken Morris
BrainTrust

Communication among co-workers — actually getting to know each other — would help here. And managers should start thinking of themselves as coaches. Start with hiring Ted Lasso as your next store manager. Okay, maybe not the real Ted Lasso, but someone who understands people and how to get the to work together and have fun doing it.

Older workers definitely need different treatment than younger ones. Their needs are different and need to be recognized. Flexible schedules, paid supplemental healthcare, and perhaps social programs would all drive more elder engagement. This is an untapped well of workers that can fill the current gap we are experiencing throughout our industry. Unfortunately, ageism is real. So, retailers who can leverage their more experienced people effectively will have an advantage over their competitors.

David Slavick
BrainTrust

Treat ALL employees with respect and empathy. That is the Golden Rule. In retail an older worker is motivated not only by economic benefit but indeed the friend factor. Younger workers will benefit as well by learning life’s lessons from older workers – not only by observing their work ethic but by having the opportunity to hear their stories, learn of their passions and gain perspective on what is truly important in life.

David Spear
BrainTrust

David — I agree with your commentary. All employees, regardless of age, ought to be treated with the highest respect. The world is void of this in so many ways it’s frightening. But younger managers have a unique opportunity to learn from their older employees through their previous experiences, successes and mistakes.

Gary Sankary
BrainTrust

The idea that people who are in different stages of their careers have different needs isn’t new. When the labor market for retail wasn’t as tight as it is now, it was easy for companies, and not just retail, to ignore their older employees’ specific needs. Now they need to get creative to ensure that they have people in their stores, helping customers and getting the work done that needs to be done.

The key to reducing turnover at any age is understanding what motivates employees and providing an environment where they feel valued. In the case of older workers, that often means more flexibility in scheduling, access to healthcare, respect, and a sense of purpose. It might not mean advancement opportunities or career coaching.

The benefits of a diverse workforce, which includes multiple generations, are well documented. A good start would be providing benefits choices that allow employees to select those most important to them while not forcing them to participate in plans they don’t feel they need or want.

Steve Montgomery
BrainTrust

The article points out that the needs for older workers are different than their younger colleagues and the retention efforts should meet those needs in order to reduce turnover in this group. They will likely vary by individual and with retailers facing the high turnover and difficulty in hiring new workers they should make every effort reasonable to meet those needs.

Nikki Baird
BrainTrust

From both personal experience and watching the retail work experience of my teen daughter, I strongly believe one of the best ways to retain good workers, young or old, is to be accountable to your own policies and rules. Nothing is more demoralizing than seeing a an employee who is bad at their job or who is toxic get a pass, and this happens in retail way too often, like it’s too much effort to correct it or fire them (vs. dealing with high turnover of good workers who leave when they see that nothing is going to be done about it). Older workers, I have found, have even less tolerance and more wisdom about what their options are, so feel this more keenly – which is on part of why I think they’re citing “a lack of supportive colleagues” as a reason for leaving.

Richard J. George, Ph.D.
BrainTrust

Retailers develop target markets for their offerings, focusing on the needs of selected customers rather than all customers. It’s the same for their workforces. Older workers have documented differences in needs and expectations. Address both and workforce retention and, I might add, productivity will increase.

Jeff Weidauer
BrainTrust

Older workers want many of the same things all workers want: respect, flexibility, and competitive pay for time worked. Some accommodations may be required, but likely not as many as employers believe.

Gene Detroyer
BrainTrust

Mr. Retailer, listen to what they say. They report a lack of supportive colleagues, feeling unfairly treated, overworked, or working with unreliable people. As we have been writing for years and my colleagues emphasize and re-emphasize today, retailers see labor as a necessary expense rather than a true asset.

I am curious about the turnover rate for younger and older retail workers. Overall it is 60 percent. Are we talking about 80 percent for the younger and 20 percent for the older? There is so much more an older worker can bring to the retailer than the younger — if you treat them humanely. They are there for much more than a paycheck.

Rich Kizer
BrainTrust

Yes. Most older workers seem to take the job more seriously. If they are having a problem finding an answer to a customer question, they tend to take action to find the answers. It’s building a culture of service. Younger, less experienced staffers will pick up those values and implement them. IT WORKS.

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Braintrust
"Every employee is different and must be managed that way. It takes a big investment in time and effort but it is worth it."
"Older workers, I have found, have even less tolerance and more wisdom about what their options are..."
"Older workers want many of the same things all workers want: respect, flexibility, and competitive pay for time worked."

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