Seniors: an SME asset

As the proportion of active seniors in the labor market increases, Swiss companies must contemplate how to capitalize on this experienced professional resource.

Several people talking in a meeting room.

More than a quarter of Swiss citizens will be over 65 years old by 2050. In this context of an aging population and a growing demand for skilled labor, seniors represent a significant challenge for the job market. The Federal Statistical Office (FSO) notes that nearly 18% of those aged 65-74 were still active in 2021, a 5% increase compared to 30 years ago. The employability of seniors is also one of the four areas of action in an initiative launched by the Confederation concerning qualified personnel.

Among the reasons motivating seniors to remain active in the labor market rather than retiring are the importance of contributing to society, the desire to maintain social connections, and the feeling of possessing untapped experience. "The need to supplement income ranks only fourth, according to several recent studies", points out Frédéric Loutan, founding partner of the Vaud-based company Dahu Solutions, which is developing a platform to connect companies with retired personnel.

The entrepreneur has noticed a real paradigm shift regarding the employment of seniors. "We see that the topic continues to gain importance since we launched two years ago. But it also raises many questions regarding practical implementation."

Anina Hille, a teacher and project manager for diversity and inclusion management at the Lucerne University of Applied Sciences and Arts (HSLU), shares a similar view: "The results of our latest study show that employers have recognized the need for generational management and consider it important or very important to address demographic change and the shortage of qualified labor. But despite the growing interest employers have in this area, there is still considerable untapped potential in implementation, whether it pertains to strategic, structural, or cultural aspects."

Training and openness

Maintaining employability represents one of the main challenges that SMEs face when it comes to employing older individuals. "Our research clearly shows that there are significant age-related differences in motivation for continuous training or even for transitioning to a different field", the expert points out. "Elderly individuals are less open to continuous training. Yet, it is in their interest, as well as in the interest of SMEs, to preserve good employability."

It also involves exploring new approaches towards retirement and exhibiting flexibility to keep older employees for as long as possible.

Successful companies are those that approach this topic with a long-term and strategic perspective, not just through isolated measures, highlights the teacher from HSLU. "Organizational culture also holds great significance in this domain. Indeed, age-related issues are connected to numerous biases, such as assumed slowness or seniors' lack of computer literacy, and measures are more effective in an environment free from biases, or at least where they are minimized."

In this regard, employers don't need to reinvent the wheel, says the expert. "Mixed-age teams, for example, have proven their worth. Reverse mentoring, where younger individuals mentor older ones, has also been used in Swiss companies for several years and has received much positive feedback."

Putting it into practice

How should companies that want to benefit from these seasoned employees proceed? According to Anina Hille, the first step is to conduct an assessment and an analysis of the age structure. "Many SMEs do not conduct such analyses regularly, even though it requires only a small effort and numerous free tools are available for this purpose. It is also useful to systematically assess the knowledge of employees to proactively identify upcoming bottlenecks and address succession planning."

Another tip: cater to the needs of older employees. "This includes, in particular, the possibility of working beyond the legal retirement age. It also encompasses themes that older employees find important but are often dissatisfied with, such as improving information flow within the company."

Lastly, it is beneficial to review the acquisition of new skills regularly. "Regarding continuous training, older employees often prefer different learning methods than younger ones, and this should be taken into account. In summary, both employees and employers have an interest in maintaining high employability for everyone."


On the theme

A generational barometer

The Lucerne University of Applied Sciences and Arts is one of the pioneering academic institutions when it comes to the employability of seniors. It has notably developed a Generational Barometer in collaboration with various partners, the latest results of which will be published on October 3, 2023. The study, which focuses on both SMEs and large companies, provides an overview of how Swiss employers actively harness generational diversity and address demographic change and the shortage of qualified workforce through generational management. Concrete examples and practical measures are available in the HSLU guide "Simplified Generational Management" (see link).

Last modification 06.09.2023

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