ADA & Disabilities, Benefits, Strategic HR

Modifying the Workplace for Older Employees

As our population demographics change over the years, employers are finding themselves with a workforce that is ever-changing in composition. While those in the Millennial cohort are finding their feet in the workplace and advancing into more senior roles, there are plenty of Generation Xers and Baby Boomers who plan to stay in the workforce for many years to come. This may mean that employers find themselves with a workforce that has a higher average age than it did in years past. (This can be true even while more and more young workers join the workforce each year.)

Another factor that may increase the average age in the workforce is the fact that more people are transitioning into a new career after their original retirement. Many older workers are even looking for new jobs.

For employers that are looking to ensure their organization evolves with these demographic shifts, there are a lot of steps that can be taken to ensure the workplace is friendly to an aging workforce. Here are some ideas:

  • Conduct ergonomic assessments on a regular basis to ensure that work spaces, tasks, and routines are not contributing to joint pain and other musculoskeletal issues. Consider making changes to make the work space more comfortable.
  • Conduct accessibility assessments to see how accessible employee work spaces are. For example, how far must an employee walk to get to his or her work space from the parking area? How far must one walk to get to the workplace amenities like a break room or restroom? If necessary, consider making changes to the workplace to make it easier to navigate. Examples include things like automatic doors, elevators instead of stairs, ensuring work spaces are close to break rooms, and ensuring easy access to the building and work areas.
  • Provide benefits that are beneficial to an older cohort, such as disability insurance, legal assistance, financial counseling, retirement savings plans, and health insurance (including vision and dental). If in doubt about what benefits your employees would value, ask them!
  • Train your managers and hiring teams to be sure they’re not discriminating based on age.
  • Find ways to ensure that the knowledge base of older workers can be shared among other employees. Mentoring programs are one great example. Another idea would be to implement systems to get this institutional knowledge written down so it can be shared. This has the added benefit of showing more experienced employees how much they are valued.
  • Ensure your managers understand the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The ADA covers many disabilities that are likely to come with age, such as vision loss, hearing loss, or chronic conditions like arthritis. (These are just a few examples; there are many more conditions that are associated with aging that can qualify as a disability.) Be sure your team knows how to use the iterative process to determine what reasonable accommodation exists for employees who have a disability.
  • Consider allowing flexible hours or even hiring some people part-time who would have normally been full-time. Shorter workweeks can be beneficial for someone who is closer to transitioning out of the workforce. Likewise, flexibility within the workday can also be important. Consider allowing more frequent breaks or shorter schedules.
  • Consider creating retirement transition options. While this is the other side of the coin—transitioning out rather than adapting to stay—having a transition option can actually make it much easier for older employees to stay in the workplace longer. A retirement transition could take the form of a reduced schedule over X years, which allows the individual to keep working while beginning to draw on retirement income at the same time.
  • Consider adapting the job to the employee. This might include things like changing the physical requirements or allowing more time to complete tasks.

What would you add to this list? What steps has your organization taken to ensure it is friendly to employees of all ages?