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Get Ahead of the Competition With Benefits That Appeal to Older Workers

Tips to improve benefits or introduce new ones to attract skilled and experienced workers.

Addressing caregiver support issues in the workplace is not just a benevolent response; it’s smart business.  It is reported that companies reap a $3-$14 return on every $1 they spend on eldercare benefits.

More than likely, your company offers a smorgasbord of employee benefits. But are they the right kind to attract the 50-plus job candidate?

Since 2001, AARP’s Best Employers for Workers Over 50 program, cosponsored by the Society for Human Resource Management, has recognized employers whose policies and practices are ahead of the curve when it comes to attracting and retaining the 50-plus worker. Here are some tips on how to tweak existing benefits or introduce new ones to attract skilled and experienced workers, and some examples from our Best Employers winners.

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Consider These Appealing Health Benefits

Comprehensive health care savings benefits, such as those provided by six-time AARP Best Employer winner, the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, really impact employees’ health and wellness. For example, MD Anderson offers medical premiums paid at 100 percent for full-time employees, flexible spending accounts are offered and employees are given a $15/month WorkLife Choice Award for participating in the FSA. Moreover, retirees also receive free medical and prescription premiums, and are eligible to purchase additional life insurance, dental, vision and long-term care insurance at group rates.

Barry Barnett, former partner at PricewaterhouseCoopers in New York, suggests that you "provide discounted prices on supplemental policies that cover gaps in Medicare or contribute a specific amount toward those premiums.” At the very least, they provide workers with added protection and shows employees that you care about their well-being. Do the same with concierge benefits, ranging from vision and dental to pet insurance. "Employers don't incur any expense but the employee benefits from reduced costs," he says.

Health care consultant Michelle Katz says, "Identify medicines that are most frequently used by employees. Chances are many are being prescribed for mature workers who may not be able to afford them, such as cholesterol, diabetic or heart medications. Then check into the patient assistant programs offered by the pharmaceutical companies that manufacture these drugs and ask for discounts. Sometimes the insurance company has already done this, but sometimes they haven't. Cut out the middleman and go right for the gut."

"Offer health care plans that cover second-generation family members who are dependents, like grandchildren," says Dorma Kohler, owner and managing partner at AlteraMed Group in Houston. Many plans don't offer this extended coverage.

Establish group rates for long-term care and long-term disability with guaranteed issue (where no one can be turned down). "Some people who are now in their 50s are thinking they need to pick these benefits up and are finding it's very costly," adds Kohler. "Once you start having health problems, it's hard to pick these benefits up as an individual."

Another unique idea? At West Virginia University, mature employees benefit from the “Take Charge of Your Health” program, an eight-week program with weekly assignments. By the end of the eight weeks, employees will have compiled a personal health manual with information on health contacts, health numbers, medications, family medical trees, medical visits and medical reports.

Offer Training Opportunities to Help Employees Soar

Proactively offer your training programs to mature workers, regardless of their position or work status. A number of AARP’s current and former Best Employers for Workers Over 50 offer robust training and educational programs that appeal to job seekers and employees.

For example, Scripps Health, an eight-time Best Employer, offers learning and development programs to full- and part-time employees, such as tuition reimbursement, in-house classroom training, online training and certification classes. Employees must work at least 16 hours per week to be eligible for the tuition reimbursement benefit. Moreover, Scripps’ Clinical Mentorship Program gives highly skilled clinicians the opportunity to serve as role models and teachers within each patient care unit.

The YMCA of Greater Rochester, a seven-time Best Employer, offers Mentoring Across Generations that helps employees understand the culture of the organization and gain expertise in specific disciplines. They also offer in-house classroom training, online training, certification classes, regional training events, and reimbursement of professional membership dues to full- and part-time employees.

These Flexible Work Options Attract Workers 50-Plus

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Create passport or snowbird programs that allow employees to work in different parts of the country. Many employers are already doing this, says Roselyn Feinsod, an Aon Hewitt partner specializing in issues facing older workers. She points to Home Depot and CVS as examples.

"Present the option of shorter shifts,” adds Feinsod. This may be especially appealing to employees whose job requires them to stand on their feet all day, such as nurses or cashiers.

Some other unique ideas? Atlantic Health System, a six-time Best Employer, allows retirees in the 1000 Hour Club to return to work either on a part-time or per diem basis three months after retirement. Mercy Health System, a seven-time Best Employer, offers a Work to Retire program that allows employees age 50-plus with five years of service the opportunity to work reduced, pool or work-at-home schedules, and employees age 55-plus with 15 years of service can work seasonally while maintaining full-year, part-time benefits.

Moreover, offering flexible work options for caregivers will definitely attract older workers. In fact, 65.7 million caregivers account for 29 percent of the U.S. adult population, providing care to someone who is ill, disabled or aged. And 70 percent of working caregivers suffer work-related difficulties due to their dual caregiving roles. The National Institutes of Health, a four-time Best Employer, including the top-ranked winner in 2013, offers employees paid time off that is specifically designated for caregiving. The Voluntary Leave Transfer Program allows participating federal employees to share their accrued annual leave with others.

Companies can also develop temporary employment opportunities where employees act as consultants. Tim Phoenix, former principal at Deloitte Consulting in Austin, Texas, knows of a large manufacturing company that offers such opportunities to engineers, who are in short supply. They're hired for various projects throughout the year and can work as much or as little as they want. Some work three months a year, spend the winter in Florida, then return to work for another two-month project. "It's the idea that people work very intensively for short periods of time," he says. "It's a tremendously good practice in the high skills area like [with] executives or management level [employees] where it can be project-driven."

Or consider telecommuting, increasing in popularity, which offers many benefits to both employers and employees. With the rapid advances in information technology, working from home has become a very popular option for many members of America’s workforce. Telecommuting provides workers with the flexibility, convenience and financial savings that they desire, while increasing productivity and job satisfaction. In fact, by 2020, approximately 60 million Americans are likely to be telecommuters.


Consider Offering Attractive Preretirement Options and Savings Plans

Allow employees to test-drive retirement. For example, at Bon Secours Virginia, a nine-time Best Employer, employees working 32-plus hours per week can take part in the organization’s formal phased retirement program. The program allows the employee to retire from Bon Secours and then get rehired without losing any retirement funds. Those ages 65-69 maintain pension benefits provided they are not working more than 24 hours per week. Employees working past age 70½ receive their pension, with no limits on hours worked.

Moreover, at the Aerospace Corporation, a 2011 Best Employer for Workers Over 50, employees who are eligible for retirement can work part time or take up to 90 days to try out retirement but not lose their job or employee benefits if they opt to return to work full time. If they retire, these employees can also return to work on projects for up to 1,000 hours a year and still retain their retirement benefits.

Enable employees to draw retirement benefits while still working. Since 2002, employees who are eligible for retirement at Baptist Health South Florida in Coral Gables, Fla., can withdraw funds from their retirement account without penalty, still hang on to their job and full benefits, and continue participating in its retirement program, according to Bob Shirk, corporate director of benefits at Baptist.

Offer 100 percent vesting of stocks for employees who reach the age of 62. At Burns & McDonnell, which introduced an employee stock ownership plan back in 1986, employees must wait six years before they're vested. But when they reach the age of 62, it's automatic — they own the stock, explains Melissa Wood, senior vice president of human resources at the engineering firm in Kansas City, Mo. She says this strategy was implemented partly because engineers are valuable at any age. "When you're recruiting the 58-59 year-old, that vesting schedule is attractive to them," she says, adding that engineers are never ready to retire. "There's no weight or burden of, 'I have to be here for seven or 10 years to be vested.’ ”

Other Appealing Perks

"Consider offering shuttle service, especially for those who work evening hours at one location. Some individuals, regardless of age, are reluctant to drive on busy streets at night or on a freeway,” says Barnett.

Further, in these tough economic times, many employers have offered financial assistance to their employees. For example, Scripps Health offers financial hardship benefits such as salary advances, PTO hardship withdrawals and the employee funded Scripps HOPE Fund, which provides financial hardship assistance with paid time off or financial assistance.

"Serve lunch or dinner before or after a shift. Create social opportunities around the meal that create a sense of family or community, enabling employees to get to know their peers on a personal level.” Barnett says many employers are considering it.

These benefits are attractive to employees of all ages and can be effective recruiting strategies to bring top talent to your company. They also convey to workers that their employers value their contributions to the workplace. What employer doesn't want to be seen as a cut above its competition in the race to seed top talent?

For more examples of award-winning policies and practices of AARP’s Best Employers for Workers Over 50, go to

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