Unprepared for aging workers

Seven in 10 respondents have done little to retain mature workers: Conference Board
By Uyen Vu
|Canadian HR Reporter|Last Updated: 09/18/2006

Employers may be aware of the difficulties facing them in the next five years due to an aging workforce, but few have taken steps to deal with it, according to a survey the Conference Board of Canada released last month.

The survey of 137 executives,

Too Few People, Too Little Time

, found 80 per cent of respondents expect their businesses will feel the impact in five years or less, with nearly a quarter already feeling the pinch. Among some of the challenges facing employers are:

•significant shortages in people with the right skills, experience or leadership capability;

•loss of corporate and technical knowledge;

•difficulties in succession planning because the pool of qualified and experienced people will be smaller; and

•a decline in company growth and productivity and a rise in benefit costs.

However, seven in 10 respondents said they’ve done little to target retention efforts at mature workers, though one in three said they expect to increase retention efforts aimed at this group in the next five years.

“The single biggest issue that prevents organizations from dealing with the problem of an aging workforce is it’s a long-term problem requiring a long-term solution. You’re really dealing with something that’s 10 to 15 years out. For many organizations, that’s just too far,” said Owen Parker, senior research associate at the Conference Board.

He added that age-based discrimination plays a part, with managers unwilling to consider senior workers for training or to hire older workers that have been laid off for anything other than entry-level positions.

Parker also pointed to external regulatory barriers such as a rigid defined benefit pension system that makes it difficult for people to work on a part-time basis after they’ve reached 65.

At organizations that are introducing HR policies targeted at older workers programs include:

•promoting a positive work environment for all employees;

•setting up flexible work arrangements;

•changing the way work is done to reduce physical strain;

•providing opportunities for older workers to mentor or train young people;

•providing training support to mature workers;

•giving special compensation such as perks or bonuses to mature workers;

•training employees on respecting older colleagues; and

•making sure hiring and promotion processes do not discriminate on the basis of age.

Other measures employers can use to increase the efficiency of the current workforce include reducing absenteeism, overhauling disability management programs, enhancing wellness initiatives, investing in labour-saving technologies, upgrading performance management systems and instituting more and better training.

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