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Tips to Manage an Aging Workforce

What impact will America\'s aging workforce have on tomorrow\'s talent pool? What are talent managers across different industries doing about it, and are they prepared for these changes?

November 30, 2010
Related Topics: Technology
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What impact will America’s aging workforce have on tomorrow’s talent pool? What are talent managers across different industries doing about it, and are they prepared for these changes?

A series of talent management studies at the Sloan Center on Aging & Work at Boston College delved into this topic.

“Our findings were that employers oftentimes are not well-positioned to know the composition or desires of their workforces,” said Stephen Sweet, a visiting scholar at the Sloan Center.

Sweet and his colleagues collected data from 696 employers that served as a representative sample of the 10 leading sectors of the economy. These sectors represent 85 percent of private employment in the U.S.

While 40 percent of employers anticipated the aging workforce would have a negative or very negative impact on their business over the next three years, more than two-thirds had not analyzed the demographics of their workforce. Additionally, 77 percent had not analyzed the projected retirement rates of employees.

“Employers are accustomed to looking at their workforce and thinking of gender and race, but when it comes to the issue of age and the transitions of employees at different career stages, that is an area that justifies increased attention,” he said.

One of the objectives of the research is to show employers the ramifications of the aging workforce, Sweet explained. Employers that aren’t cognizant of the proportion of workers reaching retirement age risk losing the capacity of transferring knowledge from one generation of workers to the next.

In order to prevent the loss of talent and organizational knowledge, employers should plan ahead and anticipate the retirement of employees, especially those with unique roles. This should happen at a divisional and organizational level to be effective.

“That requires work that needs to be done in advance of the employee coming into the office and saying, ‘It’s time for me to retire,’” Sweet said.

Understanding the needs and desires of employees near retirement can help keep them engaged and retain them for longer.

For instance, they may prefer a different type of role at the organization or a scaling down of hours. Employers can consider flexible work arrangements, including flexible hours, work locations and redefined roles.

The study showed that the availability of these flexible options varies greatly from sector to sector.

“In manufacturing, they tend to be fairly rigid in their employment practices,” Sweet said. “Some of that rigidity is probably inevitable due to the location in which manufacturing work needs to take place, but our suspicion is that there might be alternative ways to structure shifts or design the transition between shifts by looking at the professional and technical services sector.”

While employers have much to learn by examining other sectors’ practices, it’s also important for them to match up with other employers in the same sector. The level of variation within each sector suggests that some employers may be able to improve their strategies to maximize talent potential.

Employees in the near-retirement age group are a very diverse population, and employers shouldn’t necessarily tailor a policy to a particular type of employee, Sweet explained.

“A more effective route is to instead think of flexibility available for large portions of the labor force,” he said. “Embracing flexibility is one of the key paths to responding to various challenges in what is inherently a very diverse workforce.”

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