(Sept. 22) Just because some employees are of retirement age doesn’t mean they’re ready to stop working. Now that people are living longer, it isn’t uncommon for someone to retire from one career and begin another at age 65.

The definition of an older worker is changing, but Carolyn Martin of RainmakerThinking Inc., New Haven, Conn., a research and consulting firm on generations in the workplace, defines an older worker as someone who is 65 or older.

Lynne Lancaster of BridgeWorks, Sonoma, Calif., defines older workers as those who were born before World War II. She co-wrote the book “When Generations Collide.”

The U.S. Administration on Aging found that in 2000 there were 35 million Americans 65 or older. In 2001, 4.3 million, or 13.1%, were in the labor force. These agencies predict that by 2010 there will be 40 million Americans 65 or older. They estimate that number will jump to 70 million 2030.

America is in the process of redefining what retirement is, Martin says.

Roger Herman, work force futurist with The Herman Group, Greensboro, N.C., and author of “Impending Crisis: Too Many Jobs, Too Few People,” predicts that people will continue to work into their 70s and 80s and that retirement will cease to exist.

Baby boomers define themselves by their work, Martin says. When they retire, they will need to redefine their life by finding a job that lets them express who they are while supplying a paycheck.

Lancaster says that 20% of older people plan to work in some capacity after retirement because of an inherent drive to be productive.

THE MAIN ATTRACTION

Wal-Mart Stores Inc., Bentonville, Ark., is one of the leading employers of senior citizens in the U.S., employing about 260,000 associates who are at least 55 years old, says Wendy Sept, manager of corporate communications. This represents 22% of Wal-Mart workers nationwide. Diversity in the work force allows Wal-Mart to better serve the needs of its customers, she says.

The produce department is appealing to older people because they have the opportunity to meet people in a comfortable, low-stress environment that’s also healthy, clean and secure, Herman says.

Twenty-five percent of the employees in the produce department of Sappington International Farmers Market, St. Louis, are between 65 and 80 years old, says Frank Salmieri, produce manager. To retain older workers, he limits their responsibility to what each worker is physically able to do. He also finds that older workers are most comfortable with a fixed schedule so they know what to expect each week. He schedules them to work the early morning shifts because that’s what most prefer.

Wal-Mart offers competitive pay and benefits for full- and part-time associates, including profit sharing, a 401(k) plan, a stock ownership program, paid vacation and holidays, a discount card, medical and dental coverage, life insurance, scholarships and bonuses to attract and retain staff, Sept says. Flexible hours and the ability for older associates to work in an area in which they can use the knowledge they gained during their earlier working years and life experiences also is appealing.

Older employees enjoy the camaraderie that comes with having a job, as well as the opportunity to give back, Lancaster says. They want to feel as if they are making a contribution by using their skills and expertise, Martin says.

RECRUITING SENIORS

When companies are recruiting workers, older people should be represented in the recruiting materials with images that look like them, Lancaster says. The materials also should speak to the target audience and offer something that appeals to them like the tagline: “We need your expertise and skill.”

Post hiring notices in nearby neighborhoods where the majority of the residents are older than 50.

Wal-Mart store managers are encouraged to recruit from senior citizens groups, local AARP chapters and churches, Sept says. Managers are encouraged to speak at local senior groups and to run advertisements in the local media to reach older workers, she says.

One advantage to hiring older workers it that they are reliable.

Salmieri appreciates the knowledge and dependability of older workers. They are faithful to the job, the department and to him.

Older associates also often serve as mentors for our younger workers, Sept says.

They operate with the mentality of an honest day’s work for an honest day’s pay, Martin says. Most rarely call in sick, Lancaster says. They have the people skills necessary for helping customers in the produce department.

CREATE A WIN-WIN SITUATION

Employers must understand that older workers have different needs than workers from other age groups.

Flexible work arrangements are necessary for older employees, Martin says. Many companies have the idea that employees need to work full time, but produce managers should consider part-time and job-sharing options for older employees, Herman says.

Physical comfort may be an issue for some older employees. For example, they may need a stool to sit on, Lancaster says. Produce managers should encourage older workers to use dollies to unload heavy boxes.

Salmieri works with older employees individually. For example, one employee takes care of apples, bananas and oranges, and another runs the fresh rack because those are their areas of expertise, Salmieri says.

Older workers also may work slower than other employees. In one case study, older employees didn’t want to work with younger employees because they worked faster and listened to different music. To solve this problem, the company established a shift that used only employees age 65 and older, Lancaster says.

Older employees appreciate immediate feedback. Martin suggests employers use two-way mentoring by having an older employee coach a younger employee with the philosophy that the two employees can learn from each other.

Companies should encourage learning by establishing a career development account, in which a contribution is made to an employee’s account based on performance, Martin says. Then the employee can use that money for a learning opportunity, like taking art classes. This incentive operates with the philosophy that if you’re passionate about something in your personal life, you’ll bring that passion to work.