Prepare for the Future and Protect the Past – Today’s Aging Workforce

Americans are not only living longer, but they are also working much longer than in the past. In the 21st century workforce, five generations—from the Silent Generation to the GenZers—are all sharing the workplace at the same time. While these more experienced workers of the earlier generations are valuable role models for younger workers, the Silent Generation and Baby Boomers are staying employed for years past traditional retirement age. In some cases, employers are asking them to stay in the workforce longer avoid gaps that would occur in occupations not being selected by Millennials and GenZers.

Even though aging employees are staying in the workforce longer, it is not enough to fully avoid a skills gap in some areas. In May 2017, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that employment of workers aged 65 to 75 years and older—called the forced employment rate—is expected to increase the fastest, compared to every other generation of workers, through 2024. Yet, as they age out, the skills gap – one of the 10 crises facing today’s workforce – will widen. In a survey conducted by the Society for Human Resource Management, a third of employers expect staffing problems in coming years due to this gap. “When you have large numbers that are leaving and a pipeline that is not entirely as wide as the exit pipeline, you will have temporary gaps,” says Mark Schmit, executive director of the association’s foundation.

Why are people working longer? Due to financial burdens, some of these aging workers are forced to give up their “Golden Years” of retirement and remain employed in order to enjoy a comfortable—yet shorter—retirement, to survive the ever-increasing costs of healthcare. What’s more, a 2015 U.S. Government Accountability Office Analysis shows that a surprising 29 percent of older workers do not even have a retirement or pension plan.

While the older workforce clearly offers critical assets to employers – they’re more experienced, more connected, and seriously committed to their jobs – we want workers to remain in the workforce by choice, not because they feel financial pressures to do so. To encourage older workers to continue their significant contributions to their employers, businesses must make some adjustments to policies and culture. Following are some suggestions for how to better support these seasoned employees:

  • Flextime & PTO – Allow a flexible work schedule and generous use of leave time so employees can begin to ease into retirement.
  • Telecommute – Allow employees the option to work from home.
  • Job redesign – Create new positions or adapt existing ones to better suit aging employees’ skills.
  • Retrofit workplace ergonomics – Consider implementing an age-friendly work environment, i.e. instead of having overhead storage, put storage at eye level.
  • Education – Implement training that will benefit older workers, i.e. technology-based education and mentoring younger workers.
  • Management training – Require aging workforce management training for supervisors and include education on managing a multi-generational workforce.

The aging and changing of the workforce is inevitable, but businesses can roll with the punches of temporary workforce gaps by using these strategies to invest in all generations of workers. This way, older talent can ease into retirement and hand over the reins to younger employees, while at the same time passing on invaluable knowledge to new generations along the way.

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