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Modern Ideas for Managing the Aging Workforce

written by: N Nayab•edited by: Jean Scheid•updated: 2/11/2011

Employee age has a strong impact on the nature of the workforce. The estimated average age of the workforce increased between 5 and 10 years in a decade, and more and more companies now wake up to the reality of this challenges. Read on for the key requirements of managing the aging workforce.

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    Age Discrimination in Employment Act

    Managing the Aging Workforce As the workforce grows older, employers would do well to remember the provisions of the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 that protects employees above the age of 40. The main features of this act include:

    • Prohibiting employers from specifying age preference and limitations in job notices or advertisements.
    • Forbidding companies from discrimination based on age in hiring, promotions, wages, and terminations.
    • The act allows the employer to reduce any benefits for older workers only if the cost of providing reduced benefits to older workers are the same as the cost of providing full benefits to younger workers.

    The provisions of the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, however, remains superfluous in times of a talent crunch when employers seek to recruit and retain older employees.

    Image Credit: Riley

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    The best practice in managing the aging workforce is to ensure that older workers do not remain neglected in training and career development, and that such employees receive training and development related to their needs and requirements. Young employees have a career ahead of them, and prefer to learn new and unrelated generic skills that might benefit them at a later stage. Older employees who have already come a long way would rather acquire training specific to job in question, and in new technology skills such as Information technology skills, taken for granted by young employees but unfamiliar to older employees. Older employees would also prefer refresher courses that help them revive the subjects and experiences they learned and applied long ago, and update themselves.

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    Managing older employees may require incorporating flexibility to the company's schedules and policies.

    Workplace flexibility such as flextime, telecommuting, and other interventions suit elder people well, and might actually play a big role in retaining them. Older workers prefer spending a large chunk of time in creative pursuits, or in family affairs rather than working full time with overtime to make it big.

    Some companies allow older staff to work a few hours less per week without any reduction in wages, or accumulate such reduced hours into an extra holiday.

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    Performance Measurement

    The general approach toward performance management and performance appraisals are to judge a candidate based on the drive to excel, willingness to learn new things, ability to take the initiative, and the extent of commitment and dedication put into the job. Such traits remain very irrelevant for the older workers, who primarily seek stability and a settled job routine. Some older workers even prefer a lighter working schedule with less responsibility compared to others, and remain willing to satisfy themselves with relatively lesser pay and benefits.

    The best approach in managing the aging workforce is to understand such differences in older worker preferences, identify what motivates them, and incorporate the same in job design, benefits package, and performance appraisals.

    One best practice is to allow older employees discretion in their work schedule, allowing them to choose their preferred range and extent of job duties, and design the compensation package appropriately.

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    One critical aspect in managing the aging workforce is job design and ergonomic conditions. Young employees with job vigor can get away with a poorly designed job spaces or job settings largely before fatigue and other ills start creeping in. In older employees, such problems start appearing instantly. Apart from taking extra precaution to ensure adequate ergonomics in the workplace, some considerations include:

    • Elimination of heavy lifting or large twisting movements
    • Providing additional lighting to compensate for poor eyesight
    • Making additional provision for seating, and redesigning the workstation accordingly to retain productivity levels
    • Alteration in job design and work floor layout to avoid arduous bending and reaching.
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    Health Care

    Another key element in managing the aging workforce pertains to health care. Older employees are more prone to illness, diseases, and health breakdowns. Incorporation of regular health checkups and establishing a fitness regimen, ensuring greater health coverage in employee benefits, and allowing sufficient time during work for medication and special dietary requirements are good practices in this regard.

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    Managing the aging workforce properly can lead to untold benefits for the organization such as accessing reliable and matured employees, and their rich repository of life experiences. The underlying factor on which success depends, however, is the commitment of key personnel in an organization, including both the top management and line management.