How Can Your Business Keep Up With the Challenges of an Aging Workforce?

Jul 19, 2017

With headlines using terms such as “Silver Tsunami”, “Gray Wave” or “Age Wave”, the increasing age of the American workforce has received a fair amount of attention in the media. And with good reason – the numbers are staggering. Nearly 10,000 U.S. Baby Boomers will turn 65 every day until about the year 2030, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. This natural result of the post-war baby boom is being coupled with a changing mindset among aging adults who plan to remain on the job longer than ever before.

In fact, the number of older employees has doubled in recent years. Jo Ann Jenkins, the CEO of AARP recently reported, “In 1992, workers 55-plus made up less than 12 percent of the workforce. By 2012, they were about 21 percent. And by 2022, they are projected to be over 25 percent of the total workforce.”

Additional studies confirm those projections. A recent Transamerica Center for Retirement Studies poll of full-time and part-time workers found that 66% of Baby Boomers expect to either work past age 65 (51%) or do not plan to retire (15%). The survey also concluded that 82 percent of employees who are currently in their 60s plan on working past age 65.

The population curve is not the only reason there will be more older Americans in the workforce than ever before. The Baby Boomer generation is healthier and more active than their parents were at the same age, and enjoy the challenge and social aspects of employment. For others, rising healthcare costs and financial pressures mandate delaying retirement.

For employers, this trend presents a unique set of challenges and opportunities for managers.

Challenges Older Employees May Face

More mature workers offer employers a variety of benefits, such as a deep well of experience and well-developed communications skills. However, there are also negative impacts, such as increased salary and health care costs. Older employees are also often caring for both their children and aging parents at the same time.

According to AARP statistics, 74% of adults with elder care responsibilities are also working outside the home. Not only does this create stress for employees, your business can also suffer. A report prepared by Boston College shows that businesses lose between $11.4 to $29 billion per year in productivity due to elder caregiving.

In addition to their caregiving duties, many older employees are also dealing with additional stressors such as lifestyle changes that are common in this age group, such as empty nest syndrome and divorce. A recent Pew Research Study revealed that “Among U.S. adults ages 50 and older, the divorce rate has roughly doubled since the 1990s. In 2015, for every 1,000 married persons ages 50 and older, 10 divorced – up from five in 1990.”

Of course, aging also brings a host of physical changes that can leave older employees feeling more vulnerable than their younger counterparts.

How Your EAP Can Help

Your Employee Assistance Program (EAP) can help manage the needs of the aging workforce. For example, many EAP programs provide:

  • Elder care consultations
  • Financial planning assistance
  • Legal referrals
  • Retirement planning
  • Stress management program
  • Retraining advice
  • Life coaching services

“Older employees may hesitate to contact the EAP because they’re not sure what it can do, or are afraid of appearing weak,” says Paige Heller, MS, Clinical Supervisor at BHS.  “It’s critical that HR managers communicate (and perhaps even over-communicate) to all employees that the EAP is a confidential service that extends well beyond substance abuse referrals.  Remind them that the EAP is administered by an outside provider like BHS that does not share information back to the employer, and is governed by the same HIPAA rules as a doctor.”

Another advantage of the EAP process is that while an employee may contact the program to address an in-the-moment crisis, the trained clinicians also perform a standard intake that can reveal additional needs. So, while the call to the EAP may start by providing advice on choosing an adult day care facility for parents, the care coordinator may also be able to offer tips to avoid caregiver burnout or even a mental health referral to handle additional stressors.

Engage Older Employees with Programs

When considering staff training, don’t overlook the older generation. A recent report published by the Boston College Center on Aging and Work debunks the myth that older workers aren’t interested in training opportunities. In fact, the data concluded “More than 8 in 10 workers ages 45 to 64 say that the opportunity to learn something new is an essential element of their ideal job. And more than 7 in 10 say that on the job training is an essential element of their ideal job.”

Another way to benefit from the work experience of older employees is to encourage managers to create multi-generational teams. In the ideal situation, older and younger associates can take on the roles of both teacher and student, learning from each other. Or, create a formal mentoring program that can build employee skills and morale among multiple generations. Check out this previous BHS blog post for tips for creating successful mentoring program.

Additional Resources

The Boston College Center on Aging and Work

  • Research-based and practical ideas for responding to the needs of older workers

AARP: Working at 50+

  • AARP is designed to help people 50+ improve the quality of their lives, and offers many resources and tips for older employees

Learning How to Learn by Barbara Oakley

  • The most popular online course in the world offers learning techniques that can benefit all age groups.

Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA)

  • Overview of the Law that prohibits discrimination against people who are age 40 or older in a number of key areas of employment

Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA)

  • Resource for specifics regarding job-protected leave for specified family and medical reasons

Need help evaluating or choosing an EAP for your organization? Check out our previous blog post on How to Avoid Common EAP purchasing mistakes. And, to learn more about BHS and our EAP and Wellness offerings, get in touch.

Post Written by

Senior Performance Consultant

Pia brings to BHS a background in counseling psychology and more than 20 years of experience in the mental health field. Licensed in Maryland as a clinical alcohol and drug counselor, her expertise also includes addiction, codependency, EAP and crisis intervention. Prior to joining BHS, Pia worked with numerous hospital systems, including Sheppard and Enoch Pratt, Greater Baltimore Medical Center and Johns Hopkins.