Aging Workforce in America is Choosing to Work Beyond Normal Retirement Age
Aging Workforce in America used to mean something much different than it does today. Type the words “aging workforce in America” into the Google search bar, and about 1.6 million results pop up. It’s no wonder. More than 20% of the workforce in the U.S. is 55 or older. That is a historic high, and that number is projected to grow through at least 2020. Furthermore, according to a recent Gallup poll, 74% of Americans plan to work past traditional retirement age, either because they haven’t saved enough money to retire, or because they aren’t ready to leave their corporate gig. The aging workforce in America is no longer just a conversation or a theory. It has become a reality.
Older employees are choosing to remain on the job longer, so what does that mean for employers? The short answer is a lot. A majority of employers recognize that there is an aging workforce in America, but few employers have taken action to respond to this trend. According to a recent Senate Aging Committee report: “80 percent of employers say they are supportive of employees who plan to work past the age of 65, but only 39 percent offer flexible scheduling options and just 31 percent facilitate processes for moving from full-time to part-time roles.”
Much has been written about making the most of an aging workforce in America. Offering phased retirement programs, providing older employees the opportunity to mentor younger generations, and updating your organization’s diversity and inclusion guidelines are all proactive ways to build more flexibility into your relationships with employees who choose to remain on the job beyond traditional retirement age.
But what about day-to-day logistical and health issues, like how those employees get to and from work? Or managing their overall well-being, or making accommodations for, or even helping to prevent chronic injuries and illnesses? There are three primary areas that are important for employers to consider when it comes to an maintaining an aging employee population:
Transportation: An estimated 26 million older Americans rely on others for their transportation needs, according to the Community Transportation Association. A reality for many seniors is they may lose their ability to drive. And not all cities offer access to widely available, reliable public transportation.
Rideshare services like Uber and Lyft can be a lifesaver for older Americans without another viable transportation alternative. Both companies offer dedicated services for seniors on the move — in some cases, providing free or heavily discounted fares. Uber and Lyft have partnered with cities and various senior organizations to make these special services available. Perhaps your organization can work with rideshare providers in a similar fashion to offer services like these for your older employees. For seniors with access to smartphones, Uber and Lyft put a ride right at their fingertips. With a few taps, they can get where they need to go, including the office.
Activity and exercise: Adults at age 45 to 69 are three times more likely than those age 18 to 44, to be unable to work due to health problems, according to brandnewhealth.com. What’s more, the aging workforce in America is more prone to chronic illnesses and injuries. Compared to healthy employees, those with chronic conditions are estimated to miss 450 million more days of work each year — costing employers an estimated $153 billion in lost productivity annually. And for various reasons, including a lack of resiliency, older workers take nearly two weeks longer than younger workers to recover from injury, according to a study by Safety National.
Wellbeing programs aimed at keeping older workers active can help improve the overall health and productivity of an aging workforce. As an employer, you can implement simple wellness programs and policies designed to help foster more physical activity among older employees, such as creating an environment conducive to exercise, with easily accessible, wide stairways, and spaces for exercising and stretching. Swimming, yoga, and tai chi are also low-impact, but effective ways for older people to get in regular, consistent physical activity.
Your organization can also offer dedicated break time for physical activity, such as lunchtime walking clubs, and gym membership subsidies. Finally, you can encourage goal-setting and self-monitoring among older employees by providing wearable devices, which have been shown to help incentivize them to increase their daily step count. One caveat: be sure to provide instructions and/or hands-on tutorials for less tech-savvy employees who may not be familiar with how to use wearables.
Health and nutrition: Diet and nutrition programs to maintain health and vitality are also critical for older workers. From the book “Fitness for Work: The Medical Aspects”: “Daily fruit and vegetables, adequate supplies of protein and a good intake of water… are essential for good health. For the older worker, keeping the immune system healthy, active and effective against viruses, bacteria, and early cancers, may well be a matter of life and death, and the advice of a qualified nutritionist or dietician should be considered.”
Indeed, serving healthy foods in the cafeteria or keeping the break rooms and kitchens stocked with healthier options may help to foster better habits and optimal health among older employees. Regular sessions with an on-site nutritionist or dietician, as “Fitness for Work” suggests, may also be beneficial. Having access to better food choices and making informed dietary decisions can help create more energetic, healthy, productive employees, regardless of age. However, it can be particularly beneficial for older workers, who may need more guidance and support to make smarter, healthier choices to support their overall well-being.
A steadily aging workforce in America is choosing to delay retirement. But it can be beneficial. Older employees bring a wealth of experience and depth of intellectual property to the workplace that is quite difficult to replace, and in some cases, priceless. With the right support and services at work, an aging workforce in America can thrive and continue to perform at the top of their game for many years to come.
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