The third “Swiss National Conference on the theme of Older Workers”, which took place on Tuesday April 25, 2017, was led by Minister of Economy Johann Schneider-Ammann. For companies looking to participate in the rapidly expanding “silver economy” market, maintaining senior citizens in employment offers a great many possibilities. This does require flexible work schedules, a systematic dialogue with older workers within companies and flexibility surrounding retirement age.

A rapidly expanding market

Virtually no other segment of the economy has expanded as rapidly as the senior citizens’ market. By 2030, 670,000 additional pensioners will be living in Switzerland. They are often active, enterprising and have high individual standards. The Woodstock generation has always known what it wanted and has never settled for standardized solutions. Those who can satisfy the needs of this financially strong clientele will be rewarded with numerous business opportunities, particularly in the fields of health, finance, leisure and lifestyle. This is known today as the «silver economy». However, companies often lack the skilled workforce or capacity to serve this new clientele. It is to their advantage to remedy the potential loss of staff and knowledge that would result from the retirement of baby-boomers by retaining for as long as possible older employees who understand the needs of these important clients.

Introducing flexible working models

Studies show that if conditions are favorable, employees are willing to work beyond the legal retirement age. A pleasant work environment, the ability to organize their own time and putting less emphasis on productivity are all part of the equation. A flexible work schedule during the course of the day, the week or throughout the year helps to better balance work and family for all employees. And it is not only a question of child care – many older workers are faced with the need to care for their own parents, who depend on their support.

More flexibility benefits all employees: younger workers pursuing more training, young parents wishing to take care of their children and older workers needing more time for themselves and their loved ones. These measures are also useful for companies, allowing them to position themselves as attractive employers for all age groups and subsequently increasing employees’ loyalty.

Aspiring to reach a systematic dialogue between senior citizens and companies

For young employees or those with family obligations, special arrangements such as part-time schedules combined with an annual working time target can be an obvious solution. With older workers, though, it is different. Men of the baby-boom generation are generally less inclined to ask for a decrease in their activity rate. Many fear that this would be interpreted as a lack of commitment or loyalty. Conversely, many employers do not address this possibility, concerned that their employees might feel put off.

One solution to help reduce these psychological barriers could be a generalized assessment of skills for all employees, for example at the age of 60. This would enable the option to decrease their work schedule while continuing to work after retirement age, to no longer be perceived as a “personal attack” but rather as a natural stage in one’s career. In this context, employees could submit their request early on, thus facilitating employers to organize succession with tangible predictions. Making business leaders sensitive to this subject and exchanging experiences can also help to address this issue in a more targeted manner, for example through annual personal interviews.

Employees and employers feel favorably towards a flexible retirement age

A flexible retirement age enhances how we take into consideration the conditions and individual preferences of older workers. It is therefore not a matter of an abrupt break at the decisive age of 63 or 66, but rather that of a gradual retirement from professional life. A part time occupation can give employees “meaning to their lives” as well as structure to their weeks, punctuated with social interactions. Employers also benefit from retaining important knowledge and experience at the heart of the company.

A smooth transition into retirement could also be a solution for the lack of specialized workforce in certain areas. If all the older workers worked an extra year at an activity rate of 50%, this would create full time employment opportunities for 25,000 people.

However, this result would be a unique circumstance since the number of retirements per year would remain the same after this adjustment. Compared with the periodic net migration of approximately 60,000 people per year, the potential increase resulting from older employees is relatively small. Thousands of experienced people are likely to be able to work immediately, unlike other groups such as the unemployed or non-working mothers, meaning there would be no need for recruitment, training or establishment of childcare facilities.

 For more information on this subject: “A solid foundation for the age pyramid - Coping with Demographic Change ”.