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5 Ways an Aging Workforce Is Changing Employee Relations

Nov 15, 2015
Deb Muller


Aging Americans are working longer – a lot longer.

By 2022, almost 32% of the population between 65 and 74 will be working – almost double the labor participation rate for the same age group in 1992. This stunning statistic from the Bureau of Labor Statistics Monthly Labor Review, highlights a growing trend. In fact, the labor participation rate for 55 to 64 year olds is on a similar course and projected to increase by 20% over the same period.

For employee relations, an aging workforce has altered the workplace dynamic and ushered in new challenges and best practices. The high levels of knowledge, experience and engagement characteristic of older employees are well-documented. To adapt to the new multigenerational workforce, companies are reconfiguring everything from mentoring to retirement and even healthcare.

Here are 5 ways an aging workforce is changing employee relations:

1. Traditional workplace mentoring on the rise

The role of informal learning in the workplace is much larger than one might guess. Bersin by Deloitte highlights, “More than 80% of corporate learning occurs through informal approaches which include coaching, mentoring, communities of practice, use of expert directories, and social networking.” The social interactions inherent in informal learning come less naturally with a multigenerational workforce. By pairing older workers with younger counterparts in a company-wide mentoring program, organizations can ensure that valuable corporate knowledge is transferred, exchanged and retained. Mentoring also boosts employee engagement by promoting socialization and informal learning amongst employees of all ages and generations.

2. Reverse workplace mentoring grows in popularity

A trend gaining momentum, reverse mentoring, is geared towards bringing older workers up the technology and social media curve with the assistance of their younger coworkers. With rapidly changing technology and an endless plethora of apps, senior employees and managers have much they can learn from their younger coworkers. Even the impact of online reviews and the widespread use of photos, social media and short videos can be baffling. With reverse mentoring, a younger employee can easily work with a senior colleague and explain the ins and outs of new media as well as the mindset of a new generation of employees, insights that are invaluable to a company’s marketing and management teams.

3. Phased retirements and job shares become more common

As workers age, some are requesting phased or partial retirements. The employee continues to work but is earning less than half of his/her maximum earnings while being previously fully employed. Eligible employees continue to work part-time for the company and sometimes even job share with other colleagues. Often, they are able to begin drawing on retirement benefits while still maintaining a reduced income. The arrangement accommodates a new breed of worker who values employment, but wants less hours in the work week. For employee relations, it’s a trend that is re-enforcing the multigenerational workforce.


4. Rising cost of healthcare strains company finances

Of no surprise, job seekers view healthcare as the most important benefit when looking at companies. In a Monster survey, “…a healthcare plan was the most valued class of benefits, accounting for almost one-third of the value prospective employees would place on a benefits package.” As the workforce ages, organizations are actively trying to balance the appeal of healthcare benefits with the increasing financial strain that accompanies it.

A recent AARP Public Policy Institute report noted that in 2011, the average cost of claims paid by employers for workers over 50 was more than double compared to employees under 30. So, financially, healthcare is a company expense that is hugely impacted by the aging workforce, yet of tremendous importance to employees. Healthcare is certain to remain at the top of employee relations challenges for many years to come.

Survey results found that a healthcare plan was the most valued class of benefits, accounting for almost one-third of the value prospective employees would place on a benefits package.

5. Accommodations for an aging workforce

An employee relations issue that is cropping up more and more is employee requests for accommodation due to impairment from age-related factors. These types of accommodations, requested under the Americans with Disabilities Act, are significant in number. In an article by Beth Loy, Ph.D. of the Job Accommodation Network, she lists examples of possible impairments caused by aging and includes everything from gross motor impairment to hearing limitations and medical treatment allowances.

Organizations are responding to the needs of an aging workforce by offering flexible work and leave arrangements, installing ergonomic workstations, recording meetings and even refitting office lighting.

It’s a balancing act. Companies are finding that to keep the aging workers they so value, some areas of employee relations must be viewed through a different lens. Human resource practitioners are actively adapting best practices and embracing a more varied workforce, and older Americans are getting to work longer. It’s an employee relations win-win.

Deb Muller
Deb Muller is the CEO of HR Acuity, employee relations case management and investigations software that combines documentation, process, and human expertise so organizations can meet the challenge of managing employee relations in the modern world.