Everything old is new again… or will be, according to labour force projections and enumerated in recent studies by the Center for Retirement Research (CRR). As more and more boomers find it necessary, or desirable, to stay in the paid workforce beyond the traditional retirement age, companies are beginning to wake up to the fact that the days of early retirement incentives and lower salaries earned by younger workers will soon no longer serve their staffing needs—or make for good business.
The front edge of the Baby Boomers will reach 62 in the year 2008, and by 2015, a large portion of the labour force will be of retirement age, creating a slowdown in labour force growth and commensurate demand for older workers. According to Alicia Munnell, director of the CRR, “In the years ahead, workers will want to work and employers will need workers. The tables will increasingly turn more in favour of the worker.” Until then, popular conceptions and a plentiful workforce have fostered a climate that places older workers at a distinct disadvantage and robs companies of an undervalued but talented population.
Contrary to widespread misconceptions about older workers—that they will miss work and drive up insurance premiums with their complicated health care costs, be a drag on corporate culture with their set ways, or fail to pursue new technologies–older workers prove instead to be a solid investment. Older workers, defined as those age 55 or older, actually demonstrate a strong work ethic, miss no more work than their younger counterparts, and really deliver value where it costs companies the most: they stay in their jobs. Lower turnover means lower recruitment and training costs that eat at corporate profit and stability. Older workers bring experience and reliability to the table, emphasizes Alicia Munnell, and companies would benefit from factoring the costs of losing their most stable workers into the equation as they consider their true personnel costs.
Some companies, ahead of the curve, are realizing the valuable human capital represented in their workers over 55, and are beginning to consider new programs that will address the interests and needs of this population. Chief among these are a commitment to two key areas:
- Professional development – especially training in technology
- Wellness programs that promote healthy workers
It is a common assumption that older workers will be more resistant to change, especially technological change, than younger workers. While such resistance may have been a factor during the initial wave of technological changes that transformed the workplace as we know it, today’s workforce treats using and learning new technologies as a baseline norm. This lingering misperception, however, often prevents companies from providing adequate support for professional development in technical areas. Companies recognizing the value of retaining older workers will benefit from a commitment to promoting their technological competency through focused training and development.
Promoting a Healthy Workforce
While an aging workforce has a solid work ethic and attendance record equal to its younger counterparts, attention to employee health and wellness serves the dual purpose of maintaining lower costs related to illness and injury while addressing a priority interest of those over age 55. A healthier workforce is a happier, less expensive workforce. Study after study confirms that morale is higher among those who actively participate in employee fitness programs. In particular, Matthews Wattles and Chad Harris at Boise State University, in a 2003 study, found that workplace wellness and fitness programs lowered absenteeism while morale and productivity, benefiting both parties’ bottom line.
Corporate investment into technology training and wellness support simultaneously serves the needs of both companies and workers. Promoting these solid, but frequently undervalued business practices benefits all workers, but especially older employees, and ensures that they are equipped to deliver on the fast-paced needs in the emerging economy that will demand their presence and contributions.