Profound consequences of working with an aging workforce

Even under the best of circumstances, managing the workforce is difficult and complicated.

Nowadays, with our aging population that will be more burdensome than ever.

The process of growing old is complex for individuals. For businesses it is intricate, requiring that employers must face up to new difficulties.

Most people understand that the aging of society is an obvious fact that has to be faced.

However, few appreciate the size of the problem or its profound consequences. This is particularly true in the business world.

Companies in Canada and the United States are being challenged by their rapidly aging workforce. Next year, 14.4 per cent of Canada’s population will be at least 65 year old, and by 2021 that will be 18.7 per cent. Yet, we in North America are much better off than many other nations, notably Japan, China, and countries in the European Union that have populations aging faster.

Too, here we will have to adjust to the management of older workers. That will be compounded by the coming wave of retirements in the next decade; that will require more employment of older workers to fill the gaps in the workforce.

Few companies are prepared for this very far-reaching change.

The recent business recession deflected any possible concerns here to other questions, ignoring, among other things, the necessity of recruiting or retraining older workers.

Heretofore, companies have had to deal with more ordinary subjects, such as pay raises and promoting some of their staff. Up until recently, a few companies have encouraged older workers to take early retirement; they were shunted aside in favour of the young, who were more technologically trained and were paid lower than seniors.

That shift in employment simply cannot continue. The number of available young people with skills in engineering and science is shrinking, making it more essential to retain older workers.

The underfunded pension plans, hurt by the business recession and the wobbly stock market, add to the confused scene for the older workforce.

There, too, is the psychological hurdle of having older workers being supervised by younger employees.

The Harvard Business Review recently wrote about companies that made major changes, introducing "phased retirement" with flexible work schedules, with only a four-day week, interspersed with long holidays.

Older workers also were obligated to train their younger counterparts.

Age discrimination, fortunately, is becoming a thing of the past. The demographic revolution that is soon approaching will entail new tasks for us all.

It very well could mean a much happier, general population.


Bruce Whitestone