by Grace Austin

As the population ages, so does the workforce. With unsure economic times and the threat of dwindling Social Security, many baby boomers are choosing to stay in their jobs past retiree age or return to the workforce. Workplaces are finding themselves adapting to the changing needs and skills of aging employees.

AARP recently released their tenth annual 50 Best Employers for Workers over 50 list. Scripps Health, Cornell University, National Institutes of Health, First Horizon National Corporation of Memphis, and West Virginia University filled out the top five. The list takes into account recruiting practices, training opportunities, education and career development, workplace accommodations, alternative work options, employee health and pension benefits, and benefits for retirees.

“Scripps Health, Cornell and other employers on the list consistently recognize the value of, and have demonstrated exemplary policies for older workers,” said Jean Setzfand, AARP’s Vice President for Financial

Security in a press release. “These companies and institutions deserve to be honored after their years of progressive practices that both meet the needs of mature workers and benefit their organizations as well.”

The top company, Scripps Health, is based out of San Diego, California, and runs hospitals and clinics all over the country. Its seventh year being featured on the list, Scripps provides innovative programs for its over-50 employees, including extensive health benefits and an informative retirement toolkit. The company also actively recruits mature employees through senior placement agencies.

“These companies and institutions deserve to be honored after their years of progressive practices that both meet the needs of mature workers and benefit their organizations as well.”

“We are very proud of AARP’s selection of Scripps as number one in the country,” said Chris Van Gorder, CEO of Scripps Health.

First Horizon National Corporation, headquartered in Memphis, Tennessee, is in the banking and financial industry. The company emphasizes flexibility for their workers, whether through offering benefits to part-time workers or unconventional transitional retirement options.

“[This list] is not the endpoint. It is a symbol of what we really aspire to: engaged employees that are committed to the long-term health and growth of the company,” said John Daniel, Head of Human Resources at First Horizon.

George Mason University is featured on the list for the fourth time. AARP has recognized the institution for their life planning series and retirement packages that include complimentary tickets to basketball games and performing arts events.

“We’re really looking at the full spectrum of employees and trying to provide information and resources and programming that are going to help you at all stages of your life as well as when you’re age 40 or 50 or older,” said Janet Walker, Coordinator of Work Life and Communications at George Mason.

Above else, George Mason emphasizes flexibility in the workforce.

“We are a very flexible university. We offer flex time, compressed schedules, job-sharing, and telework. People have an opportunity if they have a family need [to take a leave of absence] because families come first. We try to maintain a flexible environment for people of all ages,” continued Walker.

Most of the companies on the U.S. list either fall into the health care or education sectors. This can probably be attributed to proximity of beneficial resources and an emphasis on industry-related principles. In other words, health and well-being are stressed in the health care sector, while universities and educational institutions traditionally emphasize learning and growth.

“Those two sectors recognize how important it is to have people of all ages and more women than perhaps other, more traditional models of employment,” said Linda Harber, Associate VP of Human Resources and Payroll at George Mason. Many companies find obvious benefits in seasoned employees, particularly their increased education and experience.

“We value all of our employees and each person provides enormous value to our organization and patients regardless of age. But there is something special about our more senior members of the team as they can bring both education and experience to the job,” said Van Gorder.

Daniel further attests to the strength of mature workers at First Horizon.

“Older workers represent experienced people and they’ve been around our company a long time and really know our customers. If you are a business customer, you’ve got someone you’re dealing with for a long time. They’re seasoned, they know the community, and they know the customers,” said Daniel.

The challenges that surround older workers are often due to their tenure and loyalty. Mature workers may have lost the outside perspective a younger or newer employee may have.

“[Older workers] tend to not have the benefit of multiple companies. If you’ve been in a company a long time you haven’t had the benefit of being in other cultures, which helps you appreciate yours even more,” said Daniel.
Being an age-friendly environment is important to diversity-conscious organizations and institutions.

“The older, more mature, experienced workers do bring a certain impact on the culture that’s just beneficial,” said Daniel. We have some longer-term employees who say ‘I’ve been through three financial crises; [the economy] is going to come back.’ They bring a certain perspective.”

Adds Walker: “Anytime when you have a diverse environment what’s great is the opportunity to learn from each other and see different things and share different knowledge bases.”