No matter their age, sex or geographic location, all Americans share one commonality: they are all getting older.
While there is nothing new or earth shattering about that reality, what is new and different is the rate at which the aging of the American workforce is taking place; for example-in the decade between 2003 and 2013, the number of American driver licenses issued to drivers over the age of 65 surged by 8.2 million-a 29 percent increase, according to the US Census.
As the “Baby Boomer” generation rapidly enters its retirement years, the aging American workforce presents a wide array of challenges for American employers and recruiters; it’s estimated that this year, about 10,000 Americans will turn age 65 every single day. While this ‘wave’ of retirement has been a long time in coming, it’s only in the last few years that the reality of the “Boomers” mass movement towards retirement has emerged as reality on the American employment landscape.
In response to this phenomenon, there have been numerous national studies into the impact of the “graying” of America’s workforce, and its short and long-term implications for American businesses.
One of the more prominent research efforts examining this issue was conducted by the Society For Human Resource Management (SHRM). The organization’s study, titled “Preparing For An Aging Workforce”, found some surprising facts surrounding the issue of the aging American worker, and just how well prepared most businesses are-or are not-for the new workplace reality.
The highlights of the SHRM study’s findings included:
More than one-third of businesses responding to the survey said their organization was preparing for the projected increase in the percentage of older workers by “examining internal policies and management practices to address this change.”
Yet, about one-fifth (or 20 percent) of companies reported that their organization has decided that no changes in their policies and practices were necessary
An additional one-fifth (about 19 percent) of responding businesses said they were just “becoming aware” of the potential change in the ratio of older workers.
Still, despite the considerable increase in the percentage of older American workers, the survey found that few human resource professionals believed the loss of skilled workers due to retirement would result in a “crisis”. The survey found that about 20 percent of HR professionals believe the aging population will create a problem over the next five years, but only about 4 percent said it was likely to result in an impending ‘crisis.’
Interestingly, the survey also found that only about one-third of respondents said they were making organizational changes to prepare and adapt to the aging workforce. According to the SHRM, only 28 percent of companies said they would be making changes to their “general management policy/practices” to deal with the aging workforce; while 33 percent of organizations were making changes to their retention practices, and 35 percent were altering their recruiting practices to either “some” or “a great extent” to deal with aging employees.
The aging American workforce is also seen as affecting various industries by widely varying degrees.
The SHRM survey found that the accommodation and food services sectors, both the retail and wholesale trades, along with the transportation and warehouse industries employed significantly fewer older workers than did other sectors of the American business world.
By contrast, the survey found that the government sector will likely be one of the areas of the American economy most affected by the aging workforce. Other industries with higher percentages of aging workers include the financial services sector, as well as the healthcare industry.
While there is a widespread acknowledgement that America’s workforce is aging-a fact that is hard to deny as 10,000 ‘baby boomers’ retire each day-the survey found that very few organizations have formal strategies in place to adapt to this reality. According to the SHRM, only four percent of companies responding said they had a formal strategy to specifically attract and retain older workers.
Perhaps as a reflection of the broader culture-with its eternal focus on youth-in addition to the higher salary expectations of more experienced employees, the survey also found that 54 percent of organizations did not specifically, and actively recruit older workers.
However, among companies who did hire older employees, one trend that was growing in size was the hiring of older workers who had previously retired from either other organizations, or their own careers. A full two-thirds (66 percent) of respondents said that their organization currently employs older workers who had, in fact, previously retired from either their previous career, or another organization.
And, not surprisingly, the SHRM survey found that financial demands were the driving force behind the decision by many older workers to return to the workforce. Almost three-quarters of respondents said the main reason for employees joining their organization after previously retiring was “money”, while 45 percent cited health care benefits as the reason they came out of retirement to return to the workplace.
More than half of the companies surveyed also said they were working to utilize the deep well of knowledge and experience of their older workers; about 54 percent of companies said they had implemented training and/or cross-training programs to transfer knowledge from older workers to younger ones, with about one-third of companies implementing mentoring programs.
Still, for those businesses with older employees, there was a definite recognition among many of the numerous assets to be gained from employing older workers. Three-quarters of survey respondents acknowledged that older employees brought with them more experience and skills, about 71 percent said older employees were “more mature and professional”, while almost 60 percent said older employees also tended to be “more reliable”.
Perhaps the best news, at least from the older employees’ perspective, was that the SHRM survey found that 92 percent of companies said they were “receptive” to the idea of working with older workers.
That acceptance of an older workforce is important-and, in 2016, more relevant than ever before.
The undeniable reality of the coming year-and most likely, for several years after this one-is that the aging ‘baby boomers’ will continue to play a large role in shaping and defining the American workplace.
For despite the changing times-and more than a half century after The Who’s Pete Townshend first proffered the notion in song to his fellow ‘boomers’-in 2016 the American business world will have no choice but to continue talking “about their generation.”