Diversity & Inclusion

Aging Workers Present Golden Opportunities

By Gary Jiles

A wise employer recognizes that with age comes solid work experience. Thus, it is beneficial to both you and the employee to accommodate the needs of your aging employees. While an older workforce may trigger a few considerations, flexibility and additional training can ensure that your employees (and business) continue to prosper.

Baby Boomers are all grown up and represent a large portion of today’s workforce. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, more than 40 percent of people age 55 and older consider themselves part of the workforce. Before the recession, many companies were becoming increasingly aware of the needs of older workers. However, many initiatives aimed at meeting those needs have been scrapped because of tumultuous financial times. Labor experts now fear that employers are woefully unprepared to meet the needs of the aging labor force.

Accommodating Aging Employees

Labor experts recommend taking small but important steps to ensure the continued prosperity of aging employees. By implementing flexible schedules and training courses, you can accommodate older workers while keeping the cost of doing so to a minimum. For example, some employers have noted that older female employees tend to want work in cooler environments, while older males prefer warmer temperatures. To solve the dilemma, companies simply installed fans at individual workstations. This small step made employees more comfortable without breaking the budget.

Some employers have held technology training sessions aimed at helping older workers transition into today’s tech-savvy market. Others are asking retired workers to come in and work on special projects or substitute for employees who will be out of the office for an extended period of time.

Despite these Solutions, Most Employers Lag Behind

Despite these simple solutions, initiatives aimed at meeting the needs of older employees are rare, and many employers struggle with the physical demands that can pose an increasingly tough challenge for older workers in many professions. A 2008 report on the aging workforce from the Society for Human Resource Management revealed that only 14 percent of companies had formal programs aimed at retaining older employees. Even worse, 59 percent of HR managers said their organizations didn’t recruit older workers.

Further, older workers are hurt by the perception that they are less tech-savvy, cost employers more in health care, and cannot adapt to change. According to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), discrimination claims among employees age 50 and older are on the rise, and nearly 25,000 age-related bias complaints were filed with the EEOC last year. Additionally, many older workers complain that they have lost their bargaining power in the workplace. Nevertheless, the vast majority of them plan to work into their retirement years for financial reasons.

Conclusion

Growing older is a reality of life. You are wise to recognize that fact and help older employees continue to succeed in the workplace. By taking a few small steps, you can accommodate your aging workforce. By focusing on retaining older workers, you can keep talented, loyal employees, while making a sound public-relations move that benefits everyone.

Gary Jiles is a partner at  Jack Nelson Jones Jiles & Gregory, P.A., in Little Rock, Arkansas. He may be contacted at gjiles@jacknelsonjones.com.