83 percent of bosses have asignificant number of employees at or near retirement. (Photo:Shutterstock)

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Only a little more than half of employers (53 percent) reallyhave a handle on when their employees will retire, despite the fact that 83percent of bosses have a significant number of employees at or nearretirement.

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That's according to the 2018 LongerWorking Careers Survey from Willis Towers Watson, which alsofinds that employers are having to rethink the way they handletheir retirement strategy for workers.

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It's not that they're not concerned about it; 81 percent saythat managing the timing of their employees' retirements is animportant business issue. But only 25 percent do soeffectively.

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They're worried about loss of talent when older workersretire—54 percent say that the loss of talent due to retiringworkers will be more significant than other labor market risks overthe next five years.

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But they're also concerned about the toll remaining olderworkers will take on younger hires, clogging up the promotionpipeline (37 percent), and the toll they'll take on salary budgets(41 percent) and health care costs (49 percent).

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In fact, while 80 percent of employers say that older employeesare crucial to their success, many are not really acting that way,with 50 percent expecting difficulty finding workers with similarknowledge and skills over the next five years and 48 percentworrying about the loss of organization-specific knowledge.

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They are taking action, however, with 66 percent offeringfinancial wellbeing or retirement planning programs tailored toolder employees approaching retirement and 19 percent planning onsuch programs either for 2019 or 2020.

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In addition, 36 percent have modified working conditions to suitolder employees; that's expected to increase to 43 percent by2020.

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Plus they're getting more flexible, with 30 percent lettingworkers change positions (such as shifting from management toindividual contributor); that could rise to more than half by2020.

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Then there's part-time; 27 percent of bosses are allowingworkers to cut back on hours, and that could increase to 45 percentby 2020.

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Other moves expected to increase are consulting arrangements andphased retirement.

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For the former, 49 percent of bosses let their retired employeeswho are collecting benefits work as consultants or contingentworkers, while another 10 percent might put such a policy in placeby 2020.

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A similar percentage, the report says, hires experienced retiredemployees in their industry on a consulting or contingentbasis.

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Phased retirement isn't much in vogue at the moment, with only 9percent of employers having a formal phased retirement program, butthis too is expected to change to as much as 23 percent by2020.

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Informal programs, says the report, are much more common, sincethey allow employers to bypass some of the compliance andadministration rules governing formal policies.

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But here too such opportunities are generally restricted tohigher-level professionals, and not offered to sales,administration or hourly staff.

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“Older workers are clearly a sought-after resource, and ourresearch shows there is a definite supply of employees who wouldlike to work into their 60s or beyond,” Lauren Hoeck, director,Retirement, Willis Towers Watson, said in the report.

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Hoeck added, “Many employers misunderstand their employees'motivations and circumstances for retiring. Therefore, they do nothave a grasp on their likely retirement patterns and are vulnerableto the workforce issues associated with employees who linger forfinancial reasons but have lower engagement and productivity. Webelieve employers can effectively draw on the expertise of olderworkers, and this opportunity will require careful management.”

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READ MORE:

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How to keep older workers safe and productive onthe job

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10 ways you can help employees prepare forretirement

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Older women workers face tougheconomics

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Marlene Satter

Marlene Y. Satter has worked in and written about the financial industry for decades.