7/8/2013 10:30 PM ET|
Employers adapting to older workers
Many seniors are putting off retirement and staying in the workforce, and their bosses are making sure they feel welcome.
The later-life needs of older Americans are often expressed as quality-of-life goals: health and wellness, rich family and personal ties, and meaningful pursuits and travel, among others. To employers, however, older workers increasingly represent serious bottom-line expense and profitability issues.
These financial issues may translate seniors' lifestyle aspirations into some impersonal statistics. But in terms of changing workplace programs and perceptions, dollars and cents may also drive change more quickly and effectively than any set of "feel good" motivations.
Kristin Tugman is the senior director of health and productivity at Unum, the large Maine-based provider of disability insurance. Unum has seen rising trends of disability claims among older employees, coupled with ever-higher percentages of workplaces staffed with people past the age of 50. Nationally, roughly a third of all seniors ages 65 to 69 are still in the workforce.
Employees ages 55 to 65 "are the fastest-growing component of the workforce," Tugman says. "They represent significant skills and experiences," she adds. Employers don't want to lose this expertise and many are developing or expanding mentoring programs to help older employees transfer skills to younger colleagues.
Beyond mentoring, however, prospective labor-force shortages mean many employers simply cannot afford to let older workers retire or walk out the door. There are no trained replacements for them, young or old.
Particularly in manufacturing and physically challenging occupations such as nursing, Tugman says, employers "are recognizing the creep up in terms of their employees' average age" and the "clear impact of continuing repetitive, hard labor."
"Recent statistics suggest that the cost of disability is about 8% to 15% of payroll," she wrote in a research paper to be published later this year. "Due to the aging population these statistics could increase up to 37% over the next 10 years."
"In 1977, only 38 percent of the workforce was over the age of 40," the paper added. "By 2002 that percentage [had] increased to 56 percent." Between 1980 and 2020, the median age of all employees in the country is projected to rise from 34.6 years to 42.8 years.
To tackle these demographic and expense trends, Tugman advocates for employers to set up what she calls "productive aging" programs, a phrase she credits to her late colleague at Unum, Kenneth Mitchell.
"Many employers have the building blocks of a productive aging program," she notes. "They just haven't been able to connect the dots." Productive aging programs include at least five components:
- A rigorous demographic analysis of an employer's aging workforce today and projected into the future. This knowledge is an essential foundation for productive aging efforts.
- Employee wellness programs with specific older-employee components.
- Chronic condition management, perhaps with special emphasis on obesity. A third of all U.S. workers have at least one chronic health issue, and the percentage is higher among older employees. Already, Tugman notes, workers older than 50 miss an average of 11 days of work a year more than younger employees. "This obesity epidemic is a significant risk factor," she wrote in her paper. "Obesity prevalence stood at 28 to 34 percent of the population in 2000 and is expected to increase to more than 45 percent of the population within the next 20 years."
- Flexible work environment. The recent decision by Yahoo to end remote work has raised questions about the impact of telecommuting on corporate results. But flexibility for older employees is broadly seen as a needed employee-retention and job-enrichment benefit.
- Job enrichment programs. "Programs that value older workers and seek to leverage their motivation with respect to their return to work and their staying at work can be effective in this effort," Tugman wrote in her research paper. As an example, she referred to job transition programs that took physical pressure off older workers while allowing them to make greater contributions of their skills. "How do we use her brain instead of just her brawn?" she says.
The key to success with older employees, Tugman concludes, is to strengthen their sense of employer loyalty. Perhaps loyalty has grown weaker among younger employees. But for older workers, it remains huge. "We've got to understand what drives the older worker," she says, "and generally it's their sense of loyalty."
While Tugman sees lots of progress among employers toward productive aging, she notes how slow the progress has been, in large measure due to the financial pressures of the recession. Companies don't have much money for such programs today. "I can't think of an employer at this stage who has gotten all the way there," she says.
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Two large problems with older workers in the workplace.
One - They have a strong B.S. meter, especially about the latest management fad. They tend to be skeptical of the next magic business bullet.
Two - Many have a lot to offer young employees, but way too many companies are not committed to actual mentoring of new staff. There seems to be the assumption that if you are right out of college and you know how to use a smartphone and a laptop, you don't need anything else (like judgment, experience or common sense).
As an older worker, my only goals for the work day is: to work hard, have a positive attitude , mind my own business and leave at the end of the day knowing that I did the best I could. Don't want to party or go out drinking at the end of the day. Don't want to get involved in office conflicts, affairs or listen to your personal problems while I am working. I like to know that if my name is attached to any work, I want it to be a quality job. Even if my boss doesn't appreciate any of this, I know that I did my best and I can live with that.
I am an older worker (over 55) and have been basically unemployed for several years. I can tell you first hand, employer discrimination is rampant when my age is discovered (I look several years younger than my actual age). I interview well but when I fill out paperwork, to include my birthdate, the tone changes instantly. if employers fear someone my age is "out of touch", I believe the reverse is often true. I was recently "hired" at what would be considered "entry level" pay in my field, My direct supervisor had the nerve to ask me if I knew how to work a computer, how to operate my IPhone, and if I was capable of sending text messages and other data through my phone. I did not even think his answer deserved a response. I am now in my second week of "full-time" employment, yet I have worked only two days so far. I expect this gig will end as my last one did a couple months ago after working three weeks.
I was laid off from my job of 17 years - at the age of 63 - and could not find another position. Some of the jobs I applied to were for the exact same work I had been doing. My AGE was the problem. It doesn't matter what anyone says - old is like a huge wart on your nose. It won't be ignored.
I'm doing temp work for now - but I treat this job as I did my last full-time position. I am here early, rarely take a full lunch period, try and help the other workers around me, and ask for additional assignments if I'm caught up with my work.
I am dependable, up-beat, intelligent and neat and clean in my appearance. IT'S MY AGE that is a problem with full-time employers.
While this article like so many previous ones may appear encouraging to older workers like myself, the TRUTH of the matter is that despite that it is ILLEGAL, companies while never admitting it, continue to practice age discrimination!! There have been many opportunities that I have been qualified for to fulfill the requirements of the position and applied to them. My resume' and cover letter were professionally written.
However, being able to view this objectively, it is most likely the person my information is being sent to is younger. Having said that, certain assumptions are immediately made. Perceptions such as "stuck in old ways", not "technologically" current, among other ones. And in many cases including mine, they're wrong!!! Companies for a very long time have realized that younger workers while perhaps "current", DO NOT have the dedication, loyalty, and MOST importantly a "work ethic" that so many older workers possess!! We STILL have a great deal to bring!!!
Some of the younger workers at our company are out "sick" 2 or 3 days a month. The oldest workers are out an average of 2 or 3 days a year!
The only disadvantage I can see to hiring older workers is that their health insurance costs more,
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