Work Life

Aging Workforce and Adapting to Change

Keeping/adding older workers is good for business

Change comes in different forms and shapes. At a workplace, this change might be in the form of people getting older. When your workforce is getting older, there is a perceived need for them to retire/move on to make way for the new and the young. But is this justified?

Older people may have spent years and years with an organization. Not only have they given a lot to the organization, they have skills and experience younger workers may not have. Studies have shown that older workers are more dedicated to their job than younger people, and that their experience, skills and maturity far outweighs potential problems associated with older people, including illness and infirmity.

Most people, regardless of age, will chose to continue working if they feel they still have something to contribute to the business. With healthier, longer lives, changes in retirement legislation and more unsettled pensions, many older workers continue to be productive workers long past traditional ‘retirement age’ of 65.

Does discrimination due to age exist?

In a survey conducted by the Chartered Management Institute (CMI), which interviewed both young and old people, “twenty-eight percent felt that they had been discriminated against as a result of being perceived as too young and 40 percent felt they had experienced disadvantage as a result of appearing too old.”

In the same study, respondents were asked to characterize the age composition of their company. Fifty –nine percent described their organization as age diverse, 32 percent described it as mature, while only 9 percent described their company’s workforce as mostly young. Some of the other conclusions made by this study were that these answers of the respondents mainly described private organizations. In smaller organizations, especially MWBEs with a workforce of less than 50, people were the most likely to characterize their workforce as ‘mature.’

Over the years, there has been a considerable change in managers’ attitudes towards older workers. Today, they see them as valuable assets to the company who possess vital skills, knowledge and the maturity that comes with experience and age. There has been a shift away from the negative stereotype attached to older workers. Ninety-three percent of the people surveyed agreed that older people are an important resource for the organization. Most people surveyed also disagreed that older workers increase the costs of a company.

Customized approaches to encourage older workers

The survey concluded that customized approaches need to be put into place so that the value of these older workers is maintained and at the same time motivate them. This involves encouragement both at the time of recruitment and on the job.

More than 50 percent of managers say that they have removed the line that mentioned age on job application forms. In under a decade, the percent of such companies using this answer on applications has gone from 44 to 64 percent. This is a welcome change as a lot of bias has been reported at the recruiting level. It effectively tackles discrimination due to age. It not only ensures impartiality against the ageing workforce, which might be considered redundant, but it also adds diversity to the workforce. There are few differences in recruitment practice by sector or size.

Apart from making these essential changes in recruitment practices, managers also need to make sure that they foster a work environment where younger workers respect and value older workers, their advice and the skills. Managers can achieve this is by including the older workforce in brainstorming sessions for important tasks at the company and recognizing achievements.

All organizations should provide training without regard to age and to suit a variety of learning styles. An overwhelming majority of the companies are ahead on this. But only around half have opportunities for workers to mentor others, regardless of age. Mentoring can be an important tool in the continuity of a company with older workers, to ensure a smooth transition when older workers retire or move to part-time positions. Another option with all workers is considering flexible time schedules and working at home options, which, again, will assist with transitions of older workers in key positions.

To promote all of these types of training initiatives, it is pertinent for managers to have properly trained staff in place. They need to keep in mind the needs of all of the workers and customize their approach to suit the needs of those requiring special attention.

Older workers can be a tremendous benefit to companies of all sizes. Smart managers and directors will find ways to accommodate and support them, as well as providing a smooth path to transitions.

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