Companies are recognizing the potential impact an aging workforce could have or is already having on their organizations as we ebb ever closer to what statistics predict will be the crux of Baby Boomer retirements in 2021. As such, business is proactively embracing strategies on how to best manage their workforces in "preparation" of what is to come. Preparation for mass retirements, preparation for those who wish to remain in the workforce, preparation for new hires and skill development, preparation for dealing with the complexities of a multigenerational workforce, etc. etc.
Statistics Canada (2011) states that "Nearly one person in four in the labour force projected to be 55 or more: The aging of the baby boomers, which is largely behind the projected decline in the overall participation rate, has had a major impact on the aging of the labour force. Between 2001 and 2009, the proportion of people in the labour force aged 55 and over rose from 10% to 17%, an increase of 7 percentage points in nine years. The first baby boomers reached the age of 55 in 2001. This increase is projected to continue from 2010 to 2021, when the succeeding cohorts of baby boomers in turn reach 55. By 2021, according to three of the five scenarios, nearly one person in four in the labour force (roughly 24%) could be 55 years of age or over, the highest proportion on record."
From: Projected trends to 2031 for the Canadian labour force. Statistics Canada, 2011
Given the trends reported by StatsCan above, the peak of our aging population is only a mere seven years away. In the grand scheme of things, that does not amount to much time. Some may argue though that this prediction may actually be farther out when we consider that the youngest baby boomers could technically have at least another 15 years yet to give to the labour market. Couple this with the fact that there are also those within our organizations who are nearing retirement and wish to carry on as long as they are able in full or part time capacities. At the end of the day, regardless of the current median age of our workforces, companies are eager to make sure that they have the right processes in place to prepare for a time when hiring workers becomes even more increasingly difficult than it is today while simultaneously balancing a workforce ready to retire or partially retire and subsequently trying to match job demands and capabilities accordingly.
Recognition of the importance of action within our own group of participants was immediately noticed when a roundtable show of hands identified a majority of our workforces were 45 years of age and over.
The Manager's challenge relating to determining and satisfying workforce needs is somewhat two-fold: first, there is the consideration of individuals leaving the workforce that needs to be managed; and secondly, companies need to bear in mind and prepare for the number of people approaching retirement years who are interested in continuing work full-time, and those looking at part-time or other flexible work arrangements. There could be a number of reasons why a potential retiree may not be ready to leave - ie. perhaps finances are not in place to retire, or they enjoy working and are stimulated by the workplace environment, team camaraderie, ongoing projects etc. Those looking for the flexible or part-time positions might actually provide companies with opportunities to backfill positions that might otherwise be difficult to manage (ie. holiday times, vacations etc.) as their responsibilities (ie. like parenting small children) are somewhat less.
Understanding that with age comes changes in our musculoskeletal systems (muscles, bones, joints, ligaments and tendons), cardiovascular and respiratory systems, hearing, vision, skin, mental and motor processes - we were pleased to have Leah Warner from Employee Wellness Solutions Network participate in our roundtable discussion. With Leah's input, we discussed the normal aging process, learned that muscles never know how old we are, delved into lifestyle changes and came to appreciate that where we are today is the result of choices we make every day in relation to nutrition, rest and exercise. Leah also highlighted a program that looks at training for retirement. This program would examine a combination of elements designed to help people prepare for retirement including finances, nutrition, exercise, fall prevention, depression, mental health. She explained that mental and physical health are very intertwined and that we need to keep our employees in the best of both elements so that they can retire in health and at less cost to the company.
In that same vein of health and wellness, our group then had considerable dialogue on the whole concept of change and the general challenges change can present - especially around technology. We agreed that change is constant and necessary in an effort for business to be competitive. One Member pointed out that the seven most expensive words are "we have always done it this way". For change to be effective it must be consistent and communicated in the appropriate means for those processing whatever the requirement or direction might be. It's a stressor that needs a support system.
A few of our discussion questions and group answers follow below - perhaps you might consider how they apply to your organization and what do you have or could have in place to help mitigate any future difficulties in retention and recruitment practices:
- How are you approaching/handling the issues involved with an aging workforce in your workplace?
In general most are starting preparations and looking down the telescope to see what might be coming and how it could possibly impact their organization. Through this process, companies are realizing that there may be gaps they have not considered so relevant before, but recognize are definitely necessary now (ie. PDA development).
Those who are well along the path in this regard have actively engaged in communicating one on one with candidates approaching retirement what to expect when they reach 65, others have or are in the midst of developing strategies to deal with chronic illness, building health and wellness programs that address age related issues, some have mentoring programs established to help transitioning of skill sets, knowledge, experience, steering in directions of interests, etc.
- What challenges (if any) are you experiencing?
* What to do when you are in a cost cutting mode - with no rehires
* Starting on succession plan development - senior people are disappearing and knowledge is
walking out the door
* Skill set transition - training to think in a progressive way
* Dealing with changing skill sets as a result of technology - fear of trying something new
* Maintaining equality and the right to work with older staff
* Communication barriers - generational differences - transitioning of knowledge
* Consistent change - change is ongoing and needs to be to be competitive
* Building a work ethic that emulates that of the retirees - difficulty in replacing that
* Emotions of retirement
* Developing employee incentives for early retirement
* General aging - body changes, slowing down
- How do you approach the idea of retirement with your aging workers?
* Old Age Security awareness through written media and suggested opportunities to consider
* Introduction of modified work/mentoring opportunities
* Letters of awareness prior to retirement with pension options, benefits
* Assistance in determining interests to enable retirement in that direction
* Package opportunities
* Company-wide retirement celebrations
An example was shared wherein one company outlined their practices when it comes to addressing the retirement issue with an employee. Three months before they turn 65, a letter is sent to bring awareness of what they can expect when they turn 65 (ie. tax benefits change, benefit plan ends, etc.) Following that, one month before that date another reminder letter is sent laying out some options and providing good lead time to make decisions.
It was suggested that if you are using educational materials or photos - they have to be constructed with your audience in mind (ie. photos that depict the proper age group, exercises that are educational but fun, etc.) - want to engage and motivate people to change behaviours.
- What do you have in place to support the transition to retirement?
* Introduction of modified work force/mentoring opportunities
* Flex programs
- For those who do not wish to retire, what do you do if their work needs to be modified in order for them to perform the necessary functions?
This was an interesting discussion and we chatted about the necessity of up to date and accurate PDA's and Job Descriptions for all positions within a company. We also discussed the importance of regular Job Performance Reviews, safety considerations, development of wellness programs, and involvement of the medical profession. A company's draft Chronic Illness Management Strategy was shared which they are developing with a mindset to encourage employees to be more active, eat right and to take care of themselves. A discussion point that came out of this particular topic dealt with the importance of creating relationships - with the employees, with physio, with medical representatives, etc. and that communication would help organizations be much more successful in helping manage their senior workers.
A variety of resources that might be helpful were passed along in addition to the strategy above - one in particular to mention has a wealth of information and is worth checking out:
"Safe and Healthy: A Guide to Managing an Aging Workforce", Government of Alberta, Human Resources and Employment
In here, you will find a great chart on "Responding to Physical Changes" that outlines how our bodies change with age and how those changes impact our ability to work. This chart goes further to list what employers and workers need to do as well and covers off the musculoskeletal, cardiovascular and respiratory systems, hearing, vision and mental and motor processes. (Pages 11-15)
Participants were asked to consider what age brings to the job from a positive perspective and we were able to list many different attributes - and a listing from the Guide above encompassed our thoughts and so many more:
* A strong work ethic
* Long-developed relationships (ie. customers, complaint resolution, etc.)
* A proven performance record
* Knowledge and skills (ie. understanding of machines)
* A sense of responsibility and duty to the job (pride and ownership)
* Loyalty and commitment to the organization
* Less likelihood of switching jobs
* An ability to manage their time
* A co-operative and team-oriented attitude
* Productivity and efficiency
* An ability to work with different people
* Access to many community contacts (especially important in sales and marketing)
* Realistic understanding of their abilities and shortcomings
* A willingness to work flexible schedules (may be willing to take vacations during
off-seasons, such as winter, and work during traditional vacation periods,
such as summer)
* Life and work experience
* Lower absenteeism
* Ability to be retrained
* An ability to serve as role models and mentors
- From group discussion and also compiled from The Benefits of Age, "Safe and Healthy: A Guide to Managing an Aging Workforce", Government of Alberta, Human Resources and Employment, Page 9
We also looked other related matters such as leveraging younger people to fill in the gaps as people retire - including collaborating with colleges and universities, accessing apprenticeship programs, utilizing youth employment, wellness in the workplace, dealing with multigenerational issues and training for workforce planning.
Thinking about our group discussion and with the Statistics Canada trends in mind, without a doubt the aging population is a topic that must continue to be addressed. In no short order, those present for this special event recognized the need to embrace, adapt and prepare for change. From a business competitive standpoint, it's vital to start putting thought into planning and company-wide process development as soon as possible.
Special thanks to our Host Sun Rich Fresh Foods, Inc. and to all of the participants who so generously shared their thoughts and experiences!
All the best as always!
Bren de Leeuw, Director - EMC Food, Beverage, Bio & Ag Program Canada
Excellence In Manufacturing Consortium - firstname.lastname@example.org - 519-372-6009
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