August 16, 2012

The nature of work and the work force have been changing rapidly in recent years. One of the most significant changes in the United States and much of the developed world is an aging work force. This is being brought about by several factors:

  • The Baby Boomers – the largest generation in history – are moving into old age.
  • Declining fertility rates mean that fewer young workers are entering the work force.
  • Many older workers are choosing to work later, whether by necessity or desire.
older employee shaking hands with younger employee

The graying of the work force presents both challenges and opportunities for employers.

First, in spite of the continuing high unemployment rate, there is a shortage of skilled workers, which is expected to worsen.

Keeping older workers longer is becoming an important business strategy. Generally, older employees are well-trained and dependable and have organizational knowledge that can take years to develop in a new employee.

To retain and get the best results from older workers:

  • Match job tasks and work spaces to each worker’s strengths and weaknesses.
  • Promote an atmosphere of inclusiveness and prevent age-related discrimination.
  • Implement flexible work arrangements for employees who want “semi-retirement” or part-time work.
  • Implement flexible policies around medical leave and return-to-work.
  • Provide safeguards against musculo-skeletal injuries.

Safety and Health Practices

It’s crucial to consider every worker’s capabilities so the job and work environment can be designed accordingly.

Work with employees individually to determine if they are physically able to perform certain job duties and make adjustments were necessary. You also need to consider that older workers may require better lighting and less background noise than a younger worker to perform at their peak.

While older workers actually make fewer injury claims than younger workers, the accidents and injuries they have tend to be more serious and more costly and often require more time to heal. This makes safety an important concern.

Slips and falls are the leading cause of injury for workers over 65. Here are some strategies for reducing them:

  • Ensure good lighting indoors and out.
  • Install non-slip walking surfaces and keep them clean, dry and unobstructed.
  • Put in secure guardrails around high elevations.
  • Install handrails on both sides of stairways.
  • Require employees to wear safe footwear.

Task rotation – and sometimes even job reassignment – may be needed to prevent repetitive stress injuries.

HR Policies and Procedures

One study found that older workers who experience age discrimination are less satisfied with their jobs and are more likely to quit.

So it’s important to promote a climate of inclusiveness that discourages ageism. Encourage working relationships across age and other demographic boundaries.

Seek and implement diverse points of view in decision making. Train line managers on inclusive leadership and respect for diversity.

On a more specific note, older workers may need more flexibility for doctor’s appointments and may need time off due to medical conditions or treatments. After a medical event, they may benefit from a gradual transition back to work, perhaps with accommodations until fully recovered.

Most employment experts agree that making the effort to support older workers more than pays off in being able to retain a talented segment of your work force.

This article was originally posted on August 16, 2012 and the information may no longer be current. For questions, please contact GRF CPAs & Advisors at