Retaining The Over-50 Employee

By Steve Hudson | September 28, 2010

What do contractors in the southeastern United States think about workers who are members of the over-50 set?

"We think about keeping them working for us," one contractor noted, "so we don't lose the investment we have in training them and so we can continue to benefit from their experience, maturity and skills."

Indeed, as contractors face a shrinking pool of manpower, retaining older workers is likely to become more and more important.

Are there things that a construction company can do to make it easier to retain older workers? One who believes that there are such things is Greg Anderson, who is supervisor over construction for Southern Land Company, a Tennessee-based firm active in development, construction and related fields.

"You've got a lot of good older workers out there," he says, "but workers over 50 do not want to go out and do physical labor type work," he says. "They want to operate equipment instead."

Realizing that fact, Anderson puts such older workers where they want to be, thus increasing the chances that they will stay on the job.

"And we even assign them a particular machine, one that they will operate all the time," he says. "They operate that machine nine to 10 hours a day, then at the end of the day they shut it down and go home. And that," he adds, "is the best way I've found to keep them on the job — by keeping them in that one machine."

But the challenge of tapping the resource that older workers provide is not unique to the construction side of things. For example, Colonial Pipeline, a company which is in the business of pumping refined petroleum products from the Gulf Coast, has also faced the issue of retaining older workers — and Craig Watson, training services leader for the company, notes that it's an issue which his company deals with on a regular basis.

Watson notes that Colonial has "a lot of people retiring in their mid to late fifties."

"But some of those people are not really ready to retire," he says. "They may have thought they wanted retirement, but only until they found themselves sitting at home not working." Having little to do at home is apparently a good motivator for getting back into the work force.

In other cases, he adds, recent stock market issues have had an impact, forcing some retired workers to reconsider retirement for purely financial reasons.

Regardless of the situation, however, encouraging those older and more experienced workers to go back to work has become an important part of Watson's job.

"There are a lot of plusses to having older workers back at work," he says. For one thing, he says, they already know the company's culture and how it works.

"Another thing is that they already have the skills we need," he says.

How is Colonial Pipeline approaching the question of bringing back workers who already have retired? Getting them back can be complicated, Watson says, as ERISA regulations limit how much a retired person can work. But he adds that offering retirees the option of job sharing may be part of the solution to re-employing retirees without running afoul of ERISA limits.


Factors That Keep The Over-50 Set Working In Construction

What they worry about:

  • Financial Concerns
  • Insurance Concerns
  • Not Ready To Retire

What they look for:

  • Comfortable Working Conditions
  • Familiar Equipment
  • Reasonable Physical Demands