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Aging workforce

Alternative work schedules are increasingly becoming a reality – benefiting the older worker. Job sharing, compressed work weeks, reduced hours, work at home, and flextime are providing the older employee a means to realize the right balance between work demands and their desire to devote more time to care giving or other family responsibilities. (Lankard, 1998) The older worker may need the flexibility to make changes in their work/life time proportion, planning and flexibility are key. With the right plan in place, the older worker may be able to increase the time they spend away from the workplace while still fulfilling job requirements and satisfying their employer.

Many employers do not yet offer flexible employment arrangement because the retirement of baby boomers will take place gradually over the next couple of decades – but there is a need to develop policies and programs now to accommodate these workers. More and more, employers are beginning to offer various options in an effort to retain its valuable workforce. Some companies offer the option of staying on part-time to assist with job-training, fill in for absent staff, or help with special projects. Part-time is considered working less than a 40-hour week either by choice or

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because it is the only alternative available.

From 1984-1993, the number of retired men aged 55-61 who worked part time instead of full time so they could continue to receive Social Security benefits jumped from 37% to 50% (McShulskis 1997). One of the problems facing part-time workers is limiting their work hours to the agreed-upon number. Many find they are expected to accomplish the same volume of work as those employed full time. Some companies offer job sharing opportunities, two part-time employees divide the hours and responsibilities of a full time job between them. The two workers can coordinate their styles and expertise to perform the duties required for the job. Many times, this alternative is preferable to a compressed work week or flextime hours.

Telecommuting is becoming more popular with employees. With this option, the employee works part or all of their time entirely from home, using their computer and the telephone to communicate with the office. This arrangement can place additional pressures on the employer with increased infrastructure maintenance, insurance, safety, and legal issues. Temporary work through agencies places full and part time workers with employers on a temporary basis. Temporary work gives the older worker a way to preview different work environments; helps them acquire additional training or update their skills; provides them with more recent work experience; offers more people contacts for their network; and gives them a chance to try out a job or a new line of work.

Volunteer Work, although unpaid, can help develop the older worker’s skills and experience and make contacts for paid employment while providing insights into different work areas. Flextime is the most popular work option being adopted by employee and employers alike. The employee can negotiate his/her starting and quitting times, and is especially appealing to the older worker because it lets them work full time but at times that are convenient for their schedule and life-style. Job reassignment allows the older worker an opportunity to accept less money in a less-demanding job in some other assignment within the same company.

Job Redesign gives the worker and employer the ability to change job specifications to eliminate those functions or tasks that cause physical or mental stress to the older worker. Compressed Work week accepts an arrangement with the employer to work fewer days – such as four 10-hour days instead of five 8-hour days. Many different factors influence the use of flexible work options. A 2001 report by the U.S. General Accounting Office predicts the U.S. population (and the workforce) will experience slower growth, include a greater percentage of minorities and immigrants, be increasingly composed of older workers, and have a smaller pool of young people to engage in work (Conroy et. al. 1997). As America’s 50-and-older population skyrockets, a growing number of companies are not just welcoming older-workers, they’re enticing them with age-friendly benefits.

Training the Older Worker Older workers will represent the fastest growing age group in America because people are living longer and healthier lives. Staying productive is important, and many will seek job opportunities in their later years. “You can’t teach an old dog a new trick.” Can you? Technology may be an area that an older person feels uncomfortable. They do not have the computer experience, and feel the younger person may have more of an advantage. “Older workers experience considerable anxiety about the changing needs of today’s workplace and about the match between their skills and employers’ needs, especially in the area of technology training.” (Cynthia Costello) This is probably not always the case. It would depend on each individual.

There is not enough research to prove if older workers are not trainable. It depends on whom you ask. Days Inn, for example, began recruiting older workers because they stayed on the job much longer than the younger workers did. (Older workers were aged 50 and above.) The older group learned complex software programs just as well, and as fast. (ERIC Digest) The older workers are not hard to teach; but they are merely out of practice when it comes to learning.

They may have different learning styles than the younger worker. One training strategy would be to separate the younger worker from the older worker. This is less intimidating. Today, younger workers are exposed to new technologies. In today’s high schools, they are trained on computers. The older worker probably attended high school in the 1960s when that technology was not yet available. (Margot Gibb-Clark) Some strategies may be as simple as the lighting in the room, or the pitch of the font.

It may only be a perception that older workers do not train well. Employers value the work ethics of the older worker, however, they are not so positive on their trainability. “Employers are also likely to invest less in training older workers because they question whether an investment in training or retraining older workers will “pay off”. (ERIC Digest) This train of thought must change in the future years because the older workers will outweigh the younger. “According to federal estimates, over the next 10 years the percentage of workers aged 45 and over will rise from 31 to 40 percent. (Cynthia Costello)

Flexible Retirement Options An increasing number of older workers are living longer, healthier lives, and struggling to juggle conflicting work and family priorities. Work and retirement patterns are changing to meet the needs of the employee and are affecting the way work fits into their lives. According to the U.S. General Accounting Office findings, 30% of persons older than 55 years of age participated in the labor force in 2000; this figure is expected to rise to 37% by 2015 at which point older workers will make up nearly 20% of the labor force. The age dependency ratio in 2000 was five working-age individuals for every one person over 65. At this rate, by 2030 there will be fewer than three persons of working-age per person older than 65.

Employers are finding it hard to replace workers since the number of workers entering the workforce is smaller then the number of workers exiting it. As a result, organizations are looking for enticements to encourage experienced workers to stay in their positions longer to offset the imbalance. One of these enticements is an employment arrangement called “Phased retirement. Phased retirement allows an employee who has reached retirement age to continue working and gradually reduce their workload from full time work to full time retirement. A variety of options are available and workers can find themselves working part-time or seasonal, they can take an extended leave of absence or perhaps chose a deferred retirement option plan. The choice is often a collaborative one between them and their employers, offering both parties benefits in an increasingly challenged job market.

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