Workplace Culture

Few Employers Addressing Impact of Aging Workforce

By Patrick Kiger

Feb. 2, 2010

While many employers worry that the approaching retirement of key workers will hurt their businesses in the next three years, preoccupation with the woeful state of the economy seems to be distracting companies from thinking too much about the demographic dilemma that lies ahead. Most still haven’t done anything to gauge the potential impact of the graying of their workforces, nor are they planning any new programs to deal with it.

Those are among the findings of a study, “The Pressures of Talent Management,” recently released by Boston College’s Sloan Center on Aging & Work. The study’s lead author, center director Marcie Pitt-Catsouphes, thinks that many executives may come to regret their myopia when they’re eventually caught off guard by the effects of the age-related talent drain. In contrast, those with the foresight to take steps now to retain older workers soon may be rewarded with a significant competitive advantage.

“Despite the state of the economy, talent management shouldn’t be considered a distraction from today’s core business issues,” says Pitt-Catsouphes. “In a sense, there’s no better time to be dealing with it than now. It doesn’t cost a lot of money to project retirement rates or to investigate flexible work options. And with that small investment in retention of aging workers, you’ll be able to ensure that the talent is there and ready to gear up when the economy starts to take off again, as it inevitably will.”

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The survey covered nearly 700 organizations of various sizes in retail, manufacturing, health care, construction, finance and other key economic sectors and found that 64 percent of companies were concerned that economic conditions are worse than a year ago, while only 40 percent were concerned that aging of the workforce would have a negative effect on them in the next three years. Thirty-six percent of companies felt pressured mostly by the economy, compared with just 12 percent that were worried mostly about future loss of retiring workers. Twenty-eight percent of employers cited both the economy and the aging workforce as significant problems.

Seventy-seven percent of companies said that they either have not analyzed the projected retirement rates of their workers or have only done so to a limited extent. But 63 percent of employers still assert that they have “just about the right amount” of programs and policies in place to engage older workers.

Pitt-Catsouphes sees that as a false sense of confidence. She notes that only 31 percent of the companies surveyed had established flexible work programs to a moderate or great extent. Such programs, which give retirement-eligible workers the option of working less or in a different capacity instead of completely leaving the company, are viewed by many experts as a valuable tool for talent retention.

Pitt-Catsouphes thinks many companies are hindered by a poor flow of information between HR teams and corporate leaders and managers. “Sometimes, these demographic analyses actually are being done but the information may not be filtering back to the people who can best use it—to line managers who can link up the projections to core competencies, for example,” she says. “Instead, the report is being put on a shelf.”

Workforce Management, January 2010, p. 6-7Subscribe Now!

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