State of the gray workforce after COVID-19

70% of the 5 million Americans who left the workforce during the pandemic were older than 55.

5 minutes

An older worker sits in a forklift, looking at the camera and wearing a mask

The COVID-19 pandemic has undoubtedly left a lasting impact on the US workforce, with older workers in manufacturing, warehouse, and industrial roles being particularly affected.

As we navigate the post-pandemic world in 2023, it’s crucial for employers and HR leaders to understand and adapt to the current state of the older workforce.

Below, we delve into the challenges older workers faced during the pandemic, examine the evolving landscape for these experienced professionals in today's labor market, and provide practical advice on how your organization can attract and retain older talent.

How COVID impacted older workers

The COVID-19 pandemic significantly impacted older workers, leading to economic inactivity among those aged over 50.

Research shows that almost 70% of the 5 million Americans who left the workforce during the pandemic were older than 55. This is due to a wide range of factors including workplace safety concerns, health reasons, burnout, and a reluctance to adapt to remote work.

Experts and authorities also seek to understand long COVID's influence on the American workforce amid economic instability. Persistent staffing issues have plagued employers for over a year, and now long COVID could worsen the situation.

Data shows that long COVID may have caused 4 million full-time workers, or 2.4% of the working population, to be unemployed. This could have a considerable impact on sectors like manufacturing and light industrial that require physical work and are unable to offer remote opportunities.

Is the Great Unretirement real?

The pandemic led to a significant number of older individuals exiting the workforce, but the current cost-of-living crisis may be triggering their return, a phenomenon called the 'Great Unretirement.'

Workforce participation among older Americans is now recovering, with surveys revealing that 68% of those who retired during the pandemic are considering rejoining the workforce. Financial difficulties and a drop in health and safety concerns are driving this trend.

The presence of older workers in the workforce is expected to increase due to population decline, extended life expectancy, raising retirement ages, and underfunded pension plans. Older workers can help alleviate talent shortages, with organizations estimating that multigenerational workforces could boost GDP per capita by 19% over the next 30 years.

How employers can attract and retain older workers

As the post-pandemic economy evolves, it’s crucial for employers to proactively address the challenges faced by older workers to retain their talent and preserve institutional knowledge.

To attract retirees and older workers, companies should focus on creating high-quality work environments that prioritize autonomy, information sharing, developmental opportunities, and involvement in decision-making, along with competitive compensation and benefits.

Research shows that pay, flexible hours, and a healthy work/life balance are the top 3 factors that retirees look at when considering a return to work.

Employers must also recognize that older workers' needs may differ depending on their industry. It’s best to avoid general, one-size-fits-all solutions. Instead, employers should conduct thorough assessments to understand the unique needs of older workers in their sector, such as additional health and safety measures, or tailored training programs.

Collecting employee feedback is one of the most effective ways to understand what your older workers need!

Partnering with a workforce solutions expert like Adecco is also a great way to adapt your company to today’s workforce. We have decades of experience partnering with businesses in manufacturing, light industrial, and other sectors. Get in touch with our team today and see how we can help your organization reach its full potential through employee surveys, talent attraction and retention strategies, and onsite management.