What does an aging workforce mean for your organization?

Have you heard of the term historic reversal? It refers to the fact that the global human population is aging steadily, and the phenomenon doesn’t appear to be reversible. For a variety of reasons, more and more people around the world are choosing to have fewer children or forgo parenthood altogether. This—along with diminishing pensions, a rising cost of living, and so forth—is putting pressure on millions of people to stay in the workforce longer. Whereas at the same age a few decades ago they would’ve retired by now, leaving work just isn’t a realistic option anymore.

Is your organization prepared?

While the data is not necessarily new, the implications often come as a shock to many human resources, organizational development, and management professionals. Building up a team of middle-aged workers with families to feed is considerably different from staffing a retail store with transient teenagers, but what happens when older people begin delaying retirement or seeking employment in clothing outlets and fast food restaurants? It’s tempting to think things will work themselves out, but without the right systems in place they likely won’t. Your organization, regardless of industry, needs to be ready for this demographic shift to ensure maximum employee satisfaction and productivity.

Simple ways to accommodate older employees

With all this in mind, you might be wondering where to begin. Before you make any alterations, though, first take the pulse of your organization. Are the older staff members mostly in authoritative positions or are they spread evenly from entry- to senior-level? Where do they spend most of their time when on the job? Do they have any disabilities? Has their performance changed? Are they happy? Don’t try to answer these questions by yourself. Go ask them how they’re doing and what they need. In addition to the findings you uncover from those conversations, here are a few other improvements you may need to try:

  • Promote accessibility. It’s not a good idea to wait for someone to file a complaint or get injured before implementing accessibility measures. This checklist based on the Americans with Disabilities Act provides a fantastic guide for making an existing facility friendlier to people with reduced mobility. You may also need to accommodate visual and hearing impairments, which can be done by adjusting text sizes on documents and signage or purchasing special headsets, for instance.
  • Provide flexible schedules. For some people getting older means having to visit the doctor more often or take more breaks to rest. This is completely understandable, and employees should be encouraged to put their health first even while on the job. After all, research shows sickness costs US companies $576 billion every year. Allowing your employees to duck out for appointments, work reduced hours, or even telecommute when they need to will do wonders for both their health and productivity.
  • Revisit your benefits plan. It goes without saying that employees in their 50s access very different health services than employees in their 20s. If your organization hasn’t typically staffed older employees in the past, you should double-check that your benefits plan will be relevant to them, too. Check out these tips on designing an attractive benefits package for more details.
  • Encourage team cohesion. While it may feel natural to consider an aging workforce an obstacle, it’s actually a great opportunity to inspire the cross-pollination of ideas between employees of various backgrounds and generations. Numerous studies have consistently proven diverse teams outperform homogeneous teams because, like in biology and finance, diversity creates strength and reduces risk. If you can successfully build an open-minded culture your staff will appreciate their similarities and differences, and exploit their collective wealth of knowledge to the benefit of the organization.
  • Make them feel valued. In addition to fostering a tolerant workplace culture you should also strive to uphold the dignity of your older employees. The truth is no matter how great your company might be, some of them probably wish they could retire but simply can’t afford to. Working alongside or reporting to people half their age can be awkward and potentially even embarrassing, so be mindful of these interactions and the feelings that may result. Make them feel valued by showing them your appreciation for their hard work, including them in social activities, and just getting to know them as human beings. (If you’re thinking this is how all employees should be treated regardless of their age, you’re absolutely right!)

Overall you should be cognizant of the uniqueness of your organization and create solutions that are best for your employees. For example, “aging” may mean something completely different to your company than to another. Some companies place the cut-off at 55 years old while others say 45. You may need to get creative and use innovative methods to address your staff’s needs depending on your definitions and circumstances. Whatever the case, your main goal must always be to promote the health, safety, and well-being of your staff.

Go above and beyond

The points we covered are only a few basic ways of making your organization more welcoming to older employees. If you want to make a robust, impactful, and sustainable difference, we’re here to help you. Our online library is full of video trainings, podcasts, and printable tip sheets designed to coach you through hiring and supporting an increasingly diverse workforce. There are also hundreds of resources for your employees to use anytime, anywhere. For more information log into your LifeSpeak account or book a demo with us today.


Also published on Medium.