Aging Whines and Aging Workers
2012, about one in five working adults in the United States
will be 55 years of age or older. An aging working population
is a factor of the "baby boomer" bubble reaching retirement
age. It is also a factor of the economic reality that dreams
of a viable retirement with enough income to live comfortably
and enjoy life is not going to happen based upon reliance on
whole host of other factors - health care costs,
socialization needs, inadequate savings, to name a few -
will lead to an uptick in the number of seniors remaining in
Like fine wines which improve
with age, having experienced and educated workers with
positive attitudes and good work habits offers far more to an
employer than it risks.
Employers of an older workforce
can have positive role models and mentors available for
younger workers to emulate. The older worker will offer
loyalty and attachment to the workforce that is not as well
represented in many younger workers.
There are, of course,
difficulties in the management of an older workforce. For one
thing, the supervisor may be considerably younger than the
subordinate. For some older workers, like any worker in fact,
there may be a resistance to change or a fear of new
technology. Agencies would be well served by creating training
and awareness-building seminars for the supervisors of older
workers to help dismiss myths and provide these supervisors
with the added confidence and skills they will need. This is
likely to be the leading "diversity" issue of the next couple
matrix of laws around which HR professionals orbit, especially
in a public agency, is confusing enough without an older
workforce arriving with some unique challenges. Here are some
logical or illogical extensions of a scenario which is only
one part science fiction.
First, an employer is bound by
the Age Discrimination and Employment Act to not base hiring
decisions on age, except where age is a bona fide
qualification for employment - in very rare circumstances
for the older worker. Once employed, employment decisions such
as promotions, raises, hours and working conditions are to be
based on decisions which are non-discriminatory in terms of
next part of the conundrum comes with the fact that older
persons are more likely to have chronic or degenerative health
problems such as those associated with cancer, coronary artery
disease and diabetes. That means there is a risk for more
absences for some of these workers, and health insurance
catastrophic costs, (if they arent high enough
Americans with Disabilities Act prohibits discrimination based
upon such serious conditions as those previously described,
unless the employee is unable to perform essential functions
of the job with or without accommodation.
Enter the Family and Medical
Leave Act, which mandates up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave per
year for serious medical conditions.
Taken together, these scenarios
can make HR professionals feel like castaways on Gilligans
Island. They also reflect an increasing detachment from the
reality that lies ahead as the constellation of demographics,
economics and health care comes together.
Getting depressed? Do something
about it without whining! Be a voice in the demand for a
national health insurance consensus. See the HR Doctors past
articles including "Hurricane of Another Sort" and "A Local
Government Opportunity Buried in the Health Insurance Debate"
for ideas about how this could emerge. Work in the local
community to create ways for senior citizens to re-engage in
local organizations to contribute some of their wisdom, rather
than just "being served." Look inside your own local city,
county, school board, etc. to ask whether policies of work
schedule flexibility, phased retirement, part-time positions,
"myth-busting" education for supervisors, and more, exists. If
not, make it happen. Do this prior to your own Social Security
country and each of us faces difficult times when we consider
how our policies affect our older citizens. We will be judged
by history not by the strength of our laser guided bombs and
our zeal to drill for new oil supplies in national parks, but
by the dignity and honor we bestow on the older generation.
Time to start doing a better job of bestowing. After all there
are really three - not two - inevitables in life:
death, taxes and aging.
Live long and prosper!