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Silver Linings: NH companies seek to retain older workers

By ROBERTA BAKER
New Hampshire Union Leader

September 22. 2018 6:13PM
Corporate receptionist Suzanne Wason makes a call from her work station at Northeast Delta Dental in Concord on Wednesday. (DAVID LANE/UNION LEADER)


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As baby boomers close in on the traditional retirement age of 65, Granite State business leaders are carving out multiple approaches to attracting and retaining older workers - including those nearing or past retirement.

The successful approaches are flexible, tailored to individual needs, and often end up saving businesses money while giving seniors a workable lifestyle that affords financial security as well as free time.

"Some of us just feel more secure working," said Caroline Collins, 72, of Tilton, who processed claims at Northeast Delta Dental in Concord for 29 years, and now does the same four days a week and also mentors new employees.

As a bonus, Collins accrues her vacation time to work only three days a week during summer, so she can enjoy long weekends at the retirement home she bought near Newfound Lake. Northeast Delta Dental allows Collins to work overtime as the company needs it, and return to full-time work if she wants or needs to.

The company - where 29 percent of employees are age 65 or older - offers job sharing, training for those over 50, immediate vesting in the company retirement plan even as an older worker, and presentations on retirement and financial planning.

"Even though you look forward to retirement, it's hard for older people to retire," Collins said. "I'd probably be bored out of my mind. I really enjoy teaching people."

The baby boom generation is experiencing longer and healthier lives, and many in New Hampshire are extending their working years by as much as a decade. The state's continuing low unemployment rate of 2.7 percent and ongoing workforce shortages are putting pressure on businesses to find ways to retain senior employees and the knowledge and experience they've amassed by meeting their personal and scheduling needs, and filling their income gaps.

An AARP survey in 2015 showed that 70 percent of Granite State workers in their 50s plan to continue working in their current careers as long as possible, or with reduced hours. Only 10 percent hoped to retire to a life of leisure.

Among New Hampshire businesses responding to a 2018 survey by the Business and Industry Association and AARP, 19 out of 53 reported that at least half their workers are age 50 and older, rating as excellent their loyalty, experience, commitment to quality work, ability to multi-task and reliable performance record. Nearly a quarter have employees who are caring for aging relatives.

To retain and attract older workers, businesses across the state are offering multiple solutions, including job sharing, mentoring, phase-in retirement, flexible schedules and reduced hours, training to keep skills up to date, wellness funds that pay for health maintenance, family leave to care for an elder loved one and people-friendly environments that cater to all generations by providing a desirable place to work.

"Older workers really appreciate a work environment that offers so much more flexibility than 20 to 30 years ago," said Dee Fitzgerald, marketing and pubic relations manager for W.S. Badger Co. in Gilsum, which attracts second-career seekers because of scheduling flexibility, a family environment that encourages social interaction and generous benefits, including a paid half-hour lunch prepared by on-site cooks.

"They bring some skill sets that come from being in the workforce for a long time," Fitzgerald said. "They're usually very focused, easy going and have a great sense of humor. They're doing this because they need to keep busy. They're not really ready to stop."

At Sanel Auto Parts in Concord, a family business with 44 locations in northern New England and Massachusetts, the average age of the company's 611 employees is 53, and 37 percent are 60 or older, including six who are at least 80. Some have been there more than 50 years, and Sanel offers part-time work and flexible schedules to keep them. Older employees with valuable product knowledge work in sales. Most of the part-timers over 65 work as delivery drivers for supplemental income and because they enjoy it.

"They're of the previous generation that drove around with Marlboro packs rolled up in the sleeves of their T-shirts. They love to be around cars," said Peter Glendinning, head of human resources. Older drivers sometimes receive customer's help unloading heavy boxes, and customers are happy to oblige because they enjoy the friendly interaction.

"We try to retain all good employees regardless of age," said Sanel President David Segal, who prizes older workers for their reliability, strong work ethic, driving safety and their ability to interface seamlessly with clients.

"We don't judge in terms of age - just performance."

Home Instead Senior Care in Manchester has seen an increase in seniors interested in working as part-time caregivers, especially in the last year. Most of the company's 130 care providers are age 40 or older; they're happy for the ability to work a flexible four-hour shift - a schedule that appeals to students and retirees.

"The common comment we hear is that they've been doing a job because they've had to pay the bills, and now they're looking for a job that feeds the soul, an opportunity to give back, or something different," said Caitlin Cawley, a home care consultant at Home Instead. Being older can create a closer connection between client and caregiver.

"They have things in common," Cawley said.

Silver Linings is a continuing Union Leader/Sunday News report focusing on New Hampshire's aging population. Reporter Roberta Baker can be reached at rbaker@unionleader.com or (603) 206-1514. See more at www.unionleader.com/aging. This series is funded through a grant from the Endowment for Health.


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