08/30/2012 06:54 pm ET Updated Oct 30, 2012

Flexible Workplace Options -- Wave of the Future

According to a 2011 AARP survey, 80 percent of Baby Boomers indicate their intent to continue working after leaving their regular career jobs, and more than half of them intend to do so on a part-time basis. Some companies are already taking action to accommodate this coming wave of older workers, especially since Social Security reports an average retirement age of 62; others may be submerged by it.

In a survey on the strategic involvement of HR in Fortune 1000 companies completed by Harris Interactive in November 2011 and sponsored by 25 major companies, only 24 percent of top HR executives reported that their companies provided phased retirement and other flexible workplace options to retain older workers who can continue adding value. As the 78 million Baby Boomers leave the workforce, companies will be required to tap this growing talent pool of workers with experience, expertise, seasoned judgment and proven performance (the Center for Productive Longevity calls it EESP).

With a shrinking number of younger workers and a growing number of older workers who can continue to add value, companies need to develop policies and practices that will retain and attract older workers who have the required EESP. Some flexible workplace options that companies can consider include:

• Reduced working hours
• Reduced working days
• Flexible working times, which may vary
• Seasonal work
• Job sharing
• Telecommuting
• Different work assignments (e.g., mentoring or training younger workers, a new functional or business area)
• Project assignments
• "Bridge jobs" that enable older workers to phase down from full-time work

Companies are beginning to revise their employment policies and practices and are starting to use these flexible workplace options so that they can utilize the talents and capabilities of older workers to a greater degree. However, more companies need to get on board. Data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics indicates that the average job tenure for workers 55-64 is 10 years versus 2.3 years for workers 20-34. Yet reports indicate that most companies are devoting most of their training and development dollars to younger workers, who take that investment with them when they accept a job offer that pays more money.

With unemployment high and economic growth low, companies may not be planning for an improved economy and talent shortages. However, the more advanced companies will have already begun their planning. As Winston Churchill once said, "Americans can always be relied upon to do the right thing... after exhausting all of the other possibilities." The time for planning ahead is now.