We’re all getting older and so is our workforce.
The Washington Post claims that since 1980, the American worker’s median age has steadily increased.
A recent AARP study reported that 70 percent of U.S. workers will work past retirement age. There also have been proposals to raise the Social Security retirement age to 69, which would transform many retired workers into simply workers.
This blend of older and newer employees creates management challenges. Many workplaces have several generations working together (the so called Traditionals, Boomers, Generation X and Generation Y), and each group is markedly different in how they think and behave.
The older workers often “live to work,” while younger employees “work to live.” And, while some older workers don’t meet the demands of the modern digital workplace, they often provide key expertise and mentoring to younger employees. Accordingly, employers need to prepare for this new blended workforce in several ways.
Offer creative and flexible leaves and policies. As older workers stay on the job longer, there may be fewer advancement opportunities for newer employees. Employers may need to be creative with their workforce and offer flexible work schedules (part-time work, shorter work week, job sharing, and so on). This creates a labor pool of people that don’t want full-time employment but still have experience and knowledge to contribute. Look for possible lateral moves into a different position within your organization.
Layoffs, terminations, and promotions. Companies may weigh cutting older workers because such long time workers often command higher salaries and benefits. That is illegal. Companies have a legal duty to prevent discrimination and fight negative attitudes toward older workers.
Avoid comments that contain stereotypical beliefs about older employees (i.e., older workers cannot use computers or are harder to train, or you look “like a bag of bones,” and “sound old on the telephone,” comments that resulted in a $195,000 verdict against an employer in Hawaii.)
While it is not unlawful to ask about an employee’s retirement plans for succession and other business planning, note that such questions often show up in an age-discrimination lawsuit.
Bottom line: Make employment decisions based on objective workplace criteria. Treat all employees the same and hold them accountable to the same performance standards.
Managing intergenerational changes and training.Remember: while your workforce may be aging, technology is not — the workplace is digital and people are becoming more connected. Your older employees can provide institutional knowledge for younger employees and aid in succession planning, but your younger employees may in turn provide retraining to your older employees of newer technologies and processes. Include all generations on committees and task groups.
Succession planning. Avoid a brain drain of all your institutional knowledge. Start now to insure your new workforce is properly trained and you have the bench strength to succeed.
As millions of employees approach normal retirement age, and new workers enter the workforce, employers will be forced to make staffing decisions that may have long-lasting consequences. The solution is to plan for and manage the shift occurring in the workforce.
Wilford H. Stone is with Lynch Dallas Attorneys at Law, firstname.lastname@example.org.