Home > Exclusive Articles, Leadership, Staffing > 10 Best Practices for Managing the Aging Workforce

10 Best Practices for Managing the Aging Workforce


 

by Richard Anthony, Sr.
View bio here

sponsored by HR Compendium

10 Best Practices for Managing the Aging Workforce

When introducing himself to the class I was teaching on managing the aging workforce, a Gen Xer in his early 30s said he had enrolled in my course because he was anxious about a promotion he was about to receive: supervising a group of people several years his senior in years and experience. A few of the Boomers in the class voiced a similar concern, but in reverse. They took the course in hopes of better understanding their “younger” coworkers or subordinates.

For the first time ever, we have four, and some people argue five, generations in the workforce. Each markedly different. Each variously hailed and reviled because of the myths about how they think and behave. All challenged to work toward common goals in spite of their differences.

The young man in my class had good reason to be anxious. Though bright and articulate, he had no prior supervisory experience. He did have the good sense to recognize that, without preparation, he risked failure in his first opportunity to exhibit the skills and competencies required of executives, managers and coworkers in today’s increasingly pluralistic and contentious workforce. Enlightened employers are devising new ways to recruit, develop and reward workers of all ages. However, studies show that most employers appear to be oblivious to the shifts occurring in the workforce and are therefore applying management principles and techniques that were better suited to the comparatively simpler shop floor and office venue of more than a half century ago, when the predominantly white male workforce was made up of Traditionals (born before 1946) and early Boomers (those born between 1946 and 1964).

In another time, the potential for stress among the generations gradually would have been dissipated by the natural course of events; that is, older workers would retire and move on to the next stage of their lives, making room for the generation eager to displace them. That historical phenomenon is no longer as predictable as it was for half of the last century and beyond. Because they can look forward to longer, healthier life expectancies and are accustomed to being busy, the majority of the nation’s 78 million Boomers approaching “normal” retirement age want to remain gainfully employed on a full time or part time basis. Furthermore, in hard economic times, they are not in a hurry to trade their paychecks and health care benefits for decimated 401(k) and IRA account balances. The reluctance or inability of the Boomers to move out so that younger workers can move up adds to intergenerational stress and, in my opinion, may ultimately lead to seismic intergenerational conflict over opportunity, compensation and benefits, especially health care.

Nothing short of a transformational overhaul of public and corporate policies can avert intergenerational conflict in the workforce. That could take a full generation. In the interim, employers who see the competitive advantage of recruiting and retaining older workers can adopt some of the best practices developed by organizations that are managing the shifts in the workforce rather than being victimized by them.

Best Practices

Any approach to managing the aging workforce must be undertaken within the full context of the four generations, not just the older generation. Here are some examples of initiatives employers can take to establish a work environment that values the past, present and future contributions of older workers.

1. Study generational composition of your workforce.
The first step is to take stock of what you’ve got by developing a census of the workforce by age, gender and skill level. Then plot the age data according to the four generations (Traditionals, Boomers, Generation X, Generation Y). Next, study the similarities and dissimilarities among the four generations to understand the underlying motivations for each group.

2. Prepare a workforce forecast.
Now that you know what you’ve got, prepare a forecast of the human capital in terms of competencies and experience your firm is likely to need based on certain scenarios. Do a side-by-side comparison of the workforce you have and the workforce you believe you will need three to five years out; then decide what adjustments should be made and how best to make them.

3. Train managers and supervisors about intergenerational differences and issues.
Most managers and supervisors need to step back from their daily routines to understand the causes of intergenerational stress. On the one hand, they must be fair arbiters of age-related disputes. However, they must also be aware of the emotional, cognitive and physical changes older workers experience and the possible influence on the worker’s ability to perform.

4. Match HR policies to the needs of the workforce.
HR policies should be reviewed at least every two years to ensure that they are aligned with needs of the employer and the employee. Older workers, for example, may need customized training or retraining, different types of communications and more time to prepare for the transition to retirement.

5. Be creative in designing compensation plans.
Cash compensation is important to all workers, regardless of age. As needs and time horizons change, however, how and when compensation is received become strategic issues for older workers who have the foresight to manage their assets for gain and tax effectiveness.

6. Include all generations on committees and task groups.
One very effective way to recognize the experience and skills of older workers is to include them on committees and task groups whose opinions and recommendations are solicited by management. It may be advisable to have someone outside of the group facilitate the first few sessions to help ensure that potential conflicts don’t impede communication.

7. Design and implement a comprehensive communication plan.
The differences among generations concerning sources of information are well documented. Communicating with older workers may require greater frequency and more dependence on print media. Older workers also tend to rely more on peer communications than their younger counterparts.

8. Offer lateral movement.
Boomers are achievers, but personal growth and professional advancement need no longer be equated with climbing the career ladder. Particularly in the later stages of their careers, older workers can derive personal satisfaction and make a valuable contribution by moving laterally or diagonally into a different position or function. Often, lateral moves can also offer greater flexibility as well as opportunities for interim assignments or mentoring.

9. Offer flexibility.
Flexible scheduling, job sharing, part time work, sabbaticals for community service and leaves of absence for continuing education are only a few of the ways employers can accommodate the lifestyles of older workers and retain the experience and know-how the company needs. Such programs must be designed carefully and implemented consistently to avoid resentment on the part of younger employees who may feel they are being disadvantaged.

10. Reward managers for retention.
People do what is valued, observed, measured and rewarded. Consequently, managers and supervisors should receive an unambiguous message that retaining older workers who can contribute to achieving organizational goals is valued, will be included in performance evaluations and will be rewarded.

Summary
Unlike their predecessors, the majority of Boomers want to remain actively engaged in meaningful work. In sharp contrast, most employers are either oblivious to the pending exodus of older workers or they are inclined to encourage it in the belief that older workers are expendable and can be replaced at less cost (cash compensation and benefits). As millions of Boomers approach normal retirement age, employers will be forced to make staffing decisions that may have long-lasting consequences. The solution is to plan for and manage the shift occurring in the workforce, to the mutual benefit of the employer and the employee.

Advertisements
  1. August 5, 2009 at 4:14 am

    Good ideas!

  2. August 5, 2009 at 10:29 am

    Nice piece. Well-written and sensible. As a “traditional” I’m glad to at last have a name for my cohort.

  3. August 6, 2009 at 6:52 pm

    Great thoughts! Studying the generation composition and knowing their motivation is a must. Sometimes what is perceived as fair is different from what is fair.

  1. No trackbacks yet.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: