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Addressing the Needs of an Aging Workforce

by Isabella Lee

After falling for more than a century, the retirement age of American workers is on an upward trend. According to a recent survey, 43 percent of Americans believe they will have to work during their retirement.

Many baby boomers plan on staying in the workforce past retirement for a variety of reasons: money, stimulation, to try something new, or because work is a big part of how they define themselves. To attract and retain older workers, employers must address how to include them as part of their diverse workforce.

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Employers face losing a generation of skilled and experienced laborers
The United States faces its biggest workforce drain in several decades. Its largest working demographic, the baby boomer generation, turns 62 this year, and its 76 million workers are beginning to retire. Companies value the baby boomers for the important experience and mentoring they bring to the workplace.

The next generation of workers, known as Generation X, is significantly smaller with only 46 million workers and will fall short of filling the positions left by the aging baby boomer population.

Currently, only 18 percent of U.S. employers have a recruitment strategy geared toward older workers. To address a potentially serious shortage of skilled labor, corporations will need to do more to attract baby boomers and prevent losing the current pool of skilled and experienced laborers.

Baby boomers expect to work beyond retirement
Fortunately, baby boomers are getting used to the idea of delaying their retirement. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, the number of workers age 55 and older is expected to grow from 15.6 percent of the workforce in 2004 to 21.2 percent in 2014.

Most older workers, however, no longer want the traditional choice of full-time work vs. full-time retirement. Instead, they seek flexible work arrangements such as part-time or seasonal work assignments. Regardless of whether mature workers stay full-time or part-time beyond retirement, employers must prepare to face issues that correspond with retaining a mature workforce.

Audio Conference: 60 is the New 40: Overcoming Legal and Talent Management Challenges As Boomers Stay

Best practices for maintaining a mature workforce
Any initiative to attract and retain older employees must be supported by the organizational culture and reflected in the attitudes of company leadership. Ageist remarks and discriminatory practices not only act as tremendous barriers to retaining an older workforce but also open employers to legal liability.

Stereotyping remarks such as calling someone an “old man” should be avoided. Above all, ensure that managers are setting an example for the organization that neither overt nor subtle age bias will be tolerated.

Additionally, you must keep older workers engaged in order to retain them as viable contributors. With U.S. companies facing a talent shortage, you can avoid the “brain drain” by fostering a collaborative work environment that offers older workers opportunities to use their wealth of knowledge, history, and experiences.

Frustration between older workers and management frequently stems from poor communication and a mutual feeling that one doesn’t respect the other. Managers can often avoid those issues and help older workers feel valued by taking time to listen to them voice their concerns.

To further foster a better working relationship, managers should receive diversity training on understanding the needs of and communicating with an older workforce. Your workforce also should receive training on how to communicate with their managers, work within a diverse team, and adapt to technological changes.

HR consultants suggest incorporating teamwork and diversity measures into employees’ performance evaluations at all levels of the organization. By doing so, you have documented records of how an individual is performing as well as a forum to open discussions about working with an older workforce.

Maintaining a mature workforce offers many advantages such as loyalty, strong work ethic, and stability. Additionally, successfully combating a skilled labor shortage will allow you to maintain an edge over competitors. As with any initiative, a commitment to fostering an age-friendly work environment must be embraced and adopted by upper management.

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