Keeping the boom going: Baby boomers continue strong hold on workforce

February 17, 2013 - by: Diversity Insight 1 COMMENTS

Today’s workers are likely to celebrate their 65th birthdays with a cake and a short gathering of coworkers in the break room – not with a big retirement party complete with the awarding of a gold watch. Retirement has taken on a new look, and employers must be ready for that trend to continue.

The U.S. Census Bureau released a report in January showing that the workforce participation rate for people 65 and older has been on the rise for the past 20 years but especially during the last decade. The Census Bureau’s new American Community Survey brief says that the percentage of people 65 and older in the labor force increased from 12.1 percent in 1990 to 16.1 percent in 2010. Within the 65 and over population, 65- to 69-year-olds saw the largest increase in labor force participation.

The increased labor force participation of women is another major part of the trend. The report says men 65 and older saw a 3.2 percentage point increase in labor force participation between 1990 and 2010. For women 65 and older, the participation rate rose 4.1 percentage points.

The report says the trend “is due to a variety of reasons, including the need for continued participation based on financial responsibilities, as well as the ability to participate given longer life spans.”

It’s no surprise that employers need to prepare for increasing numbers of older workers since the Census Bureau projects that the 65-and-older population will account for 21 percent of the total population by 2040.

Capitalizing on older worker trend

Advocacy group AARP calls keeping mature employees on the job “a winning strategy” and the organization has some tips for employers interested in retaining their older workers.

  • Examine culture. An organization’s culture is key to retaining older workers. “If the focus is primarily on retirement rather than on work options, a culture change may be needed,” AARP says in the Employer Resource Center section of its website. It’s also important to reward workers who stay. “Don’t wait until someone is retiring to let them know how much they are valued,” AARP advises.
  • Explore flexibility. Flexible work arrangements can help older workers balance home, work, and caregiving roles. AARP advises employers to make sure employees know what flexible arrangements are available.
  • Consider phased retirement. It doesn’t have to be all or nothing for employees nearing retirement. Allowing longtime workers to work a reduced schedule for a while before full retirement helps the employer transfer knowledge before losing an experienced worker.
  • Think about innovative scheduling. Part-time employment can benefit both the employee and employer by providing a way for an employee who wants to slow down to keep contributing to the organization. For people interested in relocating to another area for retirement, an employer might consider allowing the employee to work from a different geographic area at different times of the year.
  • Use retirees as consultants. Another way to benefit from an older worker wanting to slow down without quitting entirely is to bring the employee back as a consultant or adviser.
  • Check out policies, practices. AARP points out that ageist remarks and practices discourage older employees. “Whether overt or subtle, age bias must be removed to enable older adults to remain in the workplace as valued and experienced employees,” AARP says. Employers are advised to provide training on age discrimination and ageism and to audit policies and practices annually.
  • Engage older workers. AARP advises offering advancement, training opportunities, feedback, and coaching regardless of age.

Fusion of young and old

The mix of generations in the workforce creates challenges highlighted in a survey from CareerBuilder that was released in September 2012. The survey found generational differences in workers related to communication, work style, and career advancement.

The survey asked workers ages 25-34 and those 55 and older their preferred method of communication at work. Both groups strongly favored face-to-face communication, but the in-person talk was a more popular response for the older workers (60 percent versus 55 percent).

The younger age group was more likely to name e-mail and text messaging as their preferred way of communicating at work (35 percent versus 28 percent). The older group was more likely to name the phone as the preferred method of work communication than the younger group (12 percent versus 10 percent).

Besides communication, employers also need to keep in mind differences in work styles. The CareerBuilder survey found that younger workers are more likely to want to plan instead of diving right in to a new initiative. Fifty-two percent of workers 25-34 said they like “to skip the process and dive right into executing,” while 66 percent of those 55 and older said they like to just dive in. Forty-eight percent of the younger group said they like to write a detailed plan before acting, while just 35 percent of the older group reported that preference.

How the different age groups feel about long workdays is another issue for employers to consider. The survey found that younger workers are more likely to spend fewer hours at work but more likely to take work home.

The survey found 64 percent of workers 25-34 spent no more than eight hours a day at work, while 58 percent of workers 55 and older reported spending no more than eight hours a day in the workplace. The survey found that 69 percent of the younger age group reported working after leaving the office, while 62 percent of the older employees worked after hours.

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1 Ruth Fennell
13:16:13, 18/02/13

I have focused on working with multiple generations in the workforce (including areas such as looking at multi-generational households, caregiving, employee policies, etc.) for around 10 years. While some companies are addressing the challenges that come with “sandwich generations” and shifting “intellectual capital,” many are not preparing for changing demographics and updating their corporate cultures to reflect the needs of those changes. Whether it is differences in preferred communication styles, as mentioned in the article, or adjusting to a different work-life balance demands, I would strongly advise companies to look at the make-up of their specific employee base and adjust accordingly.

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