Age is More Than Just a Number

Thanks to the Baby Boomer generation, America is seeing its workforce grow in the older population. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) shows that between 1977 and 2007, the employment of workers 65 and older increased 101 percent, compared with an increase of 59 percent for total employment.

With the recession that hit in 2008, not only did aging workers see a large increase in the workforce, but they also hit a record-high unemployment rate. According to the U.S. BLS, in February 2010, the jobless rate among workers aged 55 and older was 7.1 percent—just shy of the record-high of 7.2 percent in December 2009. In addition, these older workers who become unemployed remain jobless for extended periods.

With people working past retirement age, technology upgrades and a competitive workforce in the recession, aging workers may need special consideration to remain safe and productive on the job. Just as new employees, seasonal employees or bilingual employees deserve targeted training and tools to help them excel, aging workers may benefit from similar opportunities.

Provide the right tools. As we age, there are a number of age-related limitations that may arise. We lose muscle strength, bone density and range of motion. Our eyes aren’t as sharp as they used to be, and we have a harder time keeping the proper posture and balance. If older workers cannot do all of the required tasks, make adjustments. For example, extra lighting and larger computer monitors may make up for failing vision. Hand trucks and dollies make it easier to lift heavy loads.

Be flexible. Look at your policies and procedures for ways to reduce the intensity on older workers. Use flexible schedules to let their bodies recover. If possible, allow older employees to work from home in a more comfortable, familiar environment. Rotate tasks regularly to reduce the strain of repetitive motions. Encourage employees to leave their workstations periodically to stretch, take their eyes off the computer screen and refocus their energy. It’s important to be accommodating to encourage aging workers to remain on the job if they so desire.

Be approachable. Sometimes, age can be a sensitive topic, especially if it is resulting in an employee’s change in work ability. Be open to discussing alternative tasks with your aging employees, and listen to their concerns. The more you know about their limits, the more you will be able to prevent workplace accidents as a result of a worker pushing him or herself beyond his or her limits.

Encourage healthy lifestyles. Healthy lifestyles can prepare the body for the workday and keep an employee in better physical shape to ward off illness. You can partner with local gyms to offer employee discounts, or offer discounts on medical benefits for employees who participate in annual health screenings. There are a number of incentives you can offer that will encourage employees to participate in a healthy lifestyle.

Launch a return-to-work program. When any employee gets hurt, a return-to-work program can help them get well and back on the job. This program may be especially helpful to aging workers since their bodies tend to heal slower than a younger worker. Return-to-work programs focus on identifying alternative, productive work that employees can do while they recover from an injury. The longer an employee is away from the job due to an injury, the less likely they become of returning to full employment. A return-to-work process helps ease the employee back into the job.

Set up a mentoring system. Recognize the benefits of having an older workforce. Tap into the years of experience and knowledge that older employees bring to the work place. Ask younger workers to shadow older workers so they can learn the most effective and efficient way to do the job. A good mentoring system can improve your productivity and make older workers feel useful and appreciated.

Be confident. There are many benefits to hiring or retaining aging workers. These workers already have established sound work habits and are more reliable. Unless this is their first time in the workforce, aging workers also have years of experience behind them. They are often willing to work varying schedules since they often do not have child or school commitments at home. Aging workers will also provide some diversity in team projects and ideas. It’s important to highlight and utilize their assets, which will, in return, benefit your workplace. 

One Response to Age is More Than Just a Number

  1. So now we can say Old is Still Gold…….
    Good Post.


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