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Factors Leading Or Influencing an Aging Workforce

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Flexible, half-retirement

Although retirement reform remains stagnant at the policy level, companies are being more proactive about modifying employee exit schemes. For example, Scripps Healthcare has installed a phased-retirement program: Retirees work part time, while drawing a portion of their retirement funds, so they still effectively earn a full salary and benefits.

Meanwhile the company avoids having to hire expensive temporary workers and retains talented employees in areas where skills are scarce. WellStar Health System offers a similar option for employees who have been with the company at least ten years. Workers prefer jobs that offer more flexibility over those that offer more vacation days. To the extent possible, give workers a say in their schedules, work conditions, work organization, work location and work tasks. Although not all older workers are feeble, companies can and should adapt for those who need some extra support. BMW has made inexpensive tweaks to workplace ergonomics for older employees as described in this post. Another example comes from Xerox, which recently introduced a training program to teach better ergonomic health strategies and raise awareness about the normal aging process. Unilever UK has also instituted a wellness program designed to prolong the working life of its older employees. As older employees leave, their talent, knowledge, deep relationships and extensive, on-the-job training exits with them.

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These are elements that simply cannot be replaced through the hiring of recent college graduates. As one respondent indicated, “The ‘graying’ of the workforce has many seen and unseen consequences that will take a heavy toll on corporations and industries that fail to recognize and understand it. You can NOT replace a valuable senior employee with two June grads and call it even…There is knowledge and practicality that can ONLY be gained ‘on-the-job’ and that point cannot be over emphasized. ” As older employees retire, some employers are discovering that they are losing valuable institutional knowledge and competencies. Workers of all ages are looking for ways to balance work and life obligations. Many older workers are members of the “sandwich” generation and must provide care for parents and children, and even grandparents and grandchildren.

Prioritizing Older-worker Skills in Hiring and Promotions

Companies like Vodafone are putting more emphasis on employees’ loyalty, track records, competence and common sense, all commonly found in older workers. Vita Needle does the same, noting that loyal older employees not only enhance the company’s reputation, but also yield higher quality work and attention to detail. B&Q (winner of the 2006 “Age Positive Retailer of the Year” Award) says that it hires for soft skills, such as conscientiousness, enthusiasm and customer rapport, which senior workers also seem to show in abundance, while Home Depot famously looks to older store clerks for the experience-based know-how that customers demand. And these aren’t just perceptions: A report from the Sloan Centre on Aging & Work at Boston College has found that, compared to younger workers, older workers do have higher levels of respect, maturity and networking ability. It’s bad for workers at every age. Consider sit/stand workstations and walking workstations for workers who traditionally sit all day. Provide onsite physical activity opportunities or connections to low-cost community options. These include promoting physical activity, healthy meal options, help in quitting smoking, risk factor reduction and screenings, coaching and onsite medical care. Respondents were also concerned about the loss of leadership knowledge, skills and abilities.

However, as the following comment suggests, some leaders view upside of the situation: “The upcoming retirement of much of our upper and middle management will create a gap in leadership but will also bring a welcome opportunity for new leadership,” states one respondent. Even in the face of legitimate concerns, there appears to be some consensus that opportunities are couched within the realities surrounding an AWF. While respondents report concern over the AWF’s effect on talent and leadership, the concern is intermixed with the understanding that this type of situation offers opportunities to enhance leadership and improve the level of talent within their organization.


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