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Older Workers Seek Flexibility, Autonomy, Learning

New studies support the notion that creative work arrangements may be key to retaining employees 50 and older.

December 14, 2005
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When it comes to integrating older employees into the workforce, the Cendant Car Rental Group has the right idea.

As it begins to establish neighborhood rental centers--those not located at airports--the owner of the Avis and Budget brands is looking for workers 50 years or older to run the businesses.

"They’re going to bring all of what makes a 50-plus worker valuable in terms of relationships, knowledge and maturity" that it takes to build a business, says Mark Servodidio, executive vice president of human resources at Cendant.

Servodidio is trying to tap into older workers’ entrepreneurial spirit by giving them a cut of their franchise’s profit. "The more successful the business is, the more money they make," he says.

Cendant’s approach is exactly what new reports recommend that all businesses do to retain older workers. The more that 50-plus people can control their hours, exercise autonomy and find opportunities to learn, the more likely they will be to continue working, according to two new reports by the Center on Aging and Work/Workplace Flexibility at Boston College and the Families and Work Institute.

The key to retaining older workers, who are likely to be in demand as the U.S. population ages and its labor force shrinks, is for companies to structure jobs creatively.

"Flexibility doesn’t just mean flextime," says Ellen Galinsky, president of the Families and Work Institute. "Flexibility means thinking in new and creative ways about dealing with issues like the pace or the timing of work."

The studies found that workers 50 or older are significantly more likely than their younger cohorts to be self-employed or run a small business. In addition, more than a quarter of wage –and salary employees and 43 percent of employees under 30 plan "to be their own boss" one day. The reports’ findings come from an analysis of the 2002 National Study of the Changing Workforce. The study, conducted every five years, samples about 3,500 workers.

The new reports were released in Washington on December 12 in conjunction with the White House Conference on Aging. Cendant’s successes with older workers were cited in Washington in November, when the company was recognized as a featured employer by AARP.

In another finding, the reports indicate that older women earn 55 cents for every dollar that men make across all hours and all jobs, including part-time and temporary positions. When only "primary" jobs are compared, women earn about 69 cents of a man’s dollar. The difference is due to older women having less education and working fewer hours.

This earning disparity continues into retirement, as women are more likely to have amassed smaller savings because of lower contributions to 401(k)s.

"Women are going to have to work longer or turn to other sources of income in ways that men will not have to," says Michael Smyer, co-director of the Center on Aging and Work/Workplace Flexibility.

--Mark Schoeff Jr.

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