The Challenges and Advantages of an Aging Workforce

By Michael Galvan | 10/23/2015

In the wake of World War II, the United States saw a steep increase in domestic birth rate. From 1946 to 1964 the post war prosperity helped to give rise to the generation now known as the “baby boomers.” These children were a part of one of the most iconic groups in history and their large numbers helped fuel a march into the new millennium. 

These workers will continue to dramatically shape the landscape of the American labor force. By the year 2029, more than 20% of the total U.S. population will be over the age of 65, and a recent report by Deloitte showed that 48% of those baby boomers plan to keep working. With more and more people choosing to work past traditional retirement age, many employers will need to consider how to better accommodate an aging workforce.  

One industry that will be particularly affected by this generational shift is healthcare. As baby boomers age, the demand for healthcare workers will increase; but, many of those positions are filled by baby boomers themselves. According to a recent survey, nearly 55% resident nurses are over the age of 50. The amount of younger workers anticipated to enter the field is not expected to meet the increased demand.

As a result, companies will need to re-think the way they structure their organizations to accommodate their older workers and keep them safe and healthy on the job. One hospital, Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital in New Jersey, has re-envisioned their facilities and processes to encourage more of their aging workers to remain at work. Management knew that retaining all available members of their staff was critical, so they created a comprehensive survey. The results showed that one area they could improve upon was managing the physical well-being of their older members. 

This spurred one of the biggest initiatives, which was to update the ergonomic environment for nurses. The hospital put out fatigue mats to help nurses relax during downtime and repositioned certain refrigerators and other machines to reduce the amount nurses had to bend down. Management also updated company policies to allow for allow more flexible working hours and vacation time. This allowed many boomers to continue “a working retirement” and still focus on the personal things they found rewarding or important.

While additional considerations may be needed to accommodate an aging workforce, age presents many unique advantages. In the workplace, , one of the most obvious benefits is experience: baby boomers have a wealth of knowledge that’s often critical to a company’s daily operations. In order to prevent a “brain-drain,” many companies have instituted mentorship programs to help their younger employees learn from these valuable peers.

Another benefit of the baby boomer generation is their relatively stable pattern of work habits compared to millennials. According to a recent survey, 91% of millennials expect to stay at a job for less than three years. This mercenary attitude toward the workforce has made long term employees even more valuable.

As we approach 2029, we may see a complex relationship develop between aging workers, “free flying” millennials, and employers. Balancing the unique needs of multiple age groups will become an important part of workforce management, especially when it comes to workplace health and safety. Programs that identify potential workplace hazards and ergonomic stressors, before an injury occurs, will become critical to performance. For example, Concentra sends doctors and physical therapists to work directly with client worksites to get a better understanding of job functions and promote worker health.

This is important for several reasons. First of all, it is allows physicians to better understand the job functions of certain positions. With that knowledge they are able to gain a better overall view on what it would take to return an injured employee to work, either full or part time.. While onsite, doctors are also able to highlight potential risk areas for employers to evaluate interventions aimed at injury prevention. Physical therapists may visit a site measure the physical stresses and demands of the job. Using this information, they can tailor clinical guidelines for pre-employment physicals that match the functional capability of potential employees to the tasks required by the position.

As America’s workforce continues to age, total worker health will only become more important. Employers will need to consider new strategies to keep aging workers healthy, productive, and accommodate them on the job. Understanding what to expect as your workforce ages will help you prepare for now for a seamless transition in the future. Choosing Concentra as your occupational medicine provider can help you identify opportunities to accommodate an aging workforce and keep your employees happy, healthy and productive.

References

  1. http://www.encyclopedia.com/topic/Baby_boom_generation.aspx2.
  2. http://www.census.gov/prod/2014pubs/p25-1141.pdf
  3. http://www2.deloitte.com/content/dam/Deloitte/global/Documents/HumanCapital/dttl-humancapital-trends11-aging-no-exp.pdf 
  4. http://www.aacn.nche.edu/media-relations/fact-sheets/nursing-shortage
  5. Ibid
  6. http://www.forbes.com/sites/jeannemeister/2012/08/14/job-hopping-is-the-new-normal-for-millennials-three-ways-to-prevent-a-human-resource-nightmare/