Attracting more older people to fill frontline senior care jobs is a potentially powerful way to alleviate labor shortages, say researchers writing Friday in the Harvard Business Review on Friday.

They based their findings based on responses of 35,000 older workers. The research has particularly strong implications for senior care employers, said the authors, who all have had close ties to the sector.

Employers seeking to dip into the older worker labor pool should focus on relationships of empathy and understanding with employees rather than transactional relationships, noted the article from Bob Kramer, Ed Frauenheim, Paul Irving and Jacquelyn Kung, DrPH, MBA.

“We always talk about senior living and senior care positions offering a sense of purpose and fulfilment, from making a difference in the lives of older adults through daily interaction with them, but we have all too often failed to recognize the opportunity this offers to older workers in particular and how well they can relate to those whom they serve each day,” Kramer, the founder of Nexus Insights, told McKnight’s Long-Term Care News Friday.

“With declining birth rates and little prospect for major immigration reform anytime in the near future, older workers in their 50s, 60s, 70s and 80s are the single largest underutilized workforce in the US and our industry can and should lead the way in engaging this desperately needed resource.”

Kung, the CEO of Activated Insights, noted the average age of nurses in the US is between 45 and 55 years old. She told McKnight’s Friday that an opportunity exists to tap into new talent pools to fill some of the caregiver shortages. Some good examples already exist.

One skilled nursing facility in New York City is successfully offering short three-to-four-hour flexible shifts to nurses at local hospitals to bring their experience to their facility, she explained. Another example: A SNF in Texas is upskilling their older dining and activities employees to nursing.

“Accommodations include more frequent breaks, more chairs to sit in to enter notes, shorter three-to-four hour shifts, and having two people tag team to fill one full time employee role,” Kung explained.

The researchers highlighted Vi Living, which operates 10 CCRCs across the US, for its prioritization of hiring older individuals. It has a section of its website dedicated to “Encore Careers.”

“You may be retired but you want to leverage your valuable life experience with meaningful work,” the section reads in part. “And you’re the sort of person we’re looking for at Vi. You may even want to consider pursuing new skills through Vi’s nationally recognized training and development programs.”

Study results echo sentiments of a decade-old study that estimated nearly 60% of adults over age 50 are looking for roles with social purpose. More than three-fourths (76%) of survey respondents who would recommend their company to others say, “My work has special meaning: this is not ‘just a job.’” 

The Harvard Business Review article identified seven principles employers can follow to recruit and retain older workers:

  • Tackle ageism
  • Build community and camaraderie
  • Communicate clearly and candidly
  • Adapt and accommodate physical challenges
  • Pay for the job, not for tenure
  • Arrange and enable flexible schedules
  • Design respectful and purposeful roles

“With nearly 100 million Americans in the Baby Boomer and Silent Generations, and similarly large aging populations in countries around the world, older workers represent an abundant, even eager, resource,” the authors wrote. “They stand at the ready, and if called on and cared for, they can power organizational opportunity and effectiveness.”