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A Word to the Wise Employer: Dispel Myths about Older Workers

03 Feb 2009 | Posted Under Boomers

Employers are facing a critical workforce shortage in the not too distant future. There are fewer younger workers entering the US workforce than there are older workers leaving: in fact the ratio is close to 1:3.

The good news: The definition of retirement is changing, and more aging baby boomers are redefining tradition by working longer. 

But, how many employers are really prepared to attract, manage, develop and retain older workers, which requires re-thinking last century stereotypes about older people?

According to William J. Rothwell, professor of workforce education and development at Penn State University, labor shortages are predicted for all industries, from construction and manufacturing, to technology and health care.  And historically, many employers begin offering early retirement incentives to their older employees thinking they will save money by reducing the numbers of their senior, often more highly paid workers.

However, research shows this is a typical myth associated with aging, according to findings by another Penn State professor, Diane Spokus, a faculty member in health policy and administration.  She exposed such myths surrounding older workers left over from the last century, based on a very different economic environment, and a generation now long retired with a huge labor force following in their footsteps (Boomers).   

Myth #1:

It costs more to retain older workers than it does to recruit younger workers.


Many older workers may receive higher salaries, but when replacement costs are factored in for the higher turnover of younger workers during their early years of employment, the cost is actually equal to or can be less than those associated with hiring young.

Myth #2:

The costs for health and other benefits are higher for older workers.


Today’s older workers have fewer acute illnesses, while younger workers have more dependents. So in reality, overall benefits may work out to be the same for older and younger workers.

In essence, the U.S. would actually be better off by retaining Baby Boomers rather than pushing them out the door.


So employers, are you ready to handle these work force shortages?  Here are some suggestions to get you started:


First: revise human resources policies to provide flexible work schedules and job sharing opportunities for older workers;

Second: design training programs with the older adult in mind;

Third: provide sensitivity training to managers and staff on age diversity issues to dispel their negative stereotypes of older workers;

Fourth: learn how to provide better ergonomic workplace designed to accommodate age-related changes;

Finally, prepare your company for the day your Boomers will leave; no matter how much longer they wish to stay, that retirement day will come.  Initiate mentoring and coaching programs that provide opportunities to pass on the wisdom and skill-sets of your more experienced workers to the next generation.

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