DEALING WITH AN AGING WORKFORCE

The average age of the US labor force is rising, and it will continue to do so for the foreseeable future. Anyone who hires, fires, or manages older works should be aware of the tremendous asset they represent—and the dangers involved in treating them unfairly.

Applicable regulations:

  • Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 (ADEA)

  • Older Workers’ Benefit Protection Act (OWBPA)

  • Equal Employment Opportunity Commission

The first of 78 million baby boomers turned 60 on January 1, 1996, and the average age of the workforce has been rising ever since. It is projected that by 2005, older workers will account for 14 percent of the total workforce. Our company’s ability to adapt to an aging workforce is perhaps the biggest challenge it faces today.

Surveys show that older employees are not absent any more often than younger ones. Older workers have skills, training and experience. And with the shortfall of qualified workers in most industries today, few employers can afford to lose their most seasoned employees.

Myths about Older Workers

According to a 1997 survey conducted by the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) and the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM), the majority of employers do not agree with the following assumptions:

  • That older works have a harder time grasping new concepts

  • That older workers have higher rates of absenteeism than younger workers

  • That older workers tend to be less flexible than their younger counterparts

  • That older workers tend to have higher rates of absenteeism

  • That older workers are more costly to train

  • That older workers tend to be less likely to stay abreast of new developments in the field

According to SHRM and AARP survey, most employers do agree with the following statements:

  • That older works tend to be more reliable than younger employees

  • That older workers generally show a higher level of commitment to the organization

  • That older workers tend to be more motivated to do their work

  • That older workers may take longer to train than younger workers

  • That older workers tend to be more fearful of technology

  • That older workers are often uncomfortable reporting to younger workers

As the survey makes clear, then general perception is that on the whole, workers over the age of 50 tend to excel or perform at least as well as their younger counterparts.

KEYS TO RETENTION OF OLDER WORKERS

  • Most companies are desperate for qualified workers which is a good reason to hold on to older, more experience employees. How do you meet the needs of the older worker?

  • Cross-train them; give them variety and new challenges

  • Be alert to the stresses that baby boomers are under

  • Be prepared to redesign jobs to accommodate older workers’ skills

  • Use mentoring and team-building strategies to improve relationships

EXAMPLES OF AGE BIAS

  • Favor younger applicant over older, better qualified ones

  • Exclude older workers from important projects and activities

  • Cut them off from job-related education, career development, or promotional opportunities

  • Pressure them into early retirement

  • Hire younger people to take over their key responsibilities, assuming that they will retire in the near future

  • Force older employees out of the workforce by making unjustified negative comments in their performance evaluations

HELP TO CHANGE ATTITUDES TOWARD OLDER WORKERS

  • Make a point of discussing age discrimination, older adult issues, and successful strategies for utilizing older workers more fully with your colleagues in other organizations, professional associations, and industry groups

  • Talk to your older workers regularly about their attitudes toward the job and their plans for the future. Let them know you will do everything possible to keep them happy where they are