By: Riley Swab
Rising populations coupled with increased life expectancies have left industrialized nations to deal with a new issue in the workforce. In fact, the U.S. Census Bureau has estimated that by 2035 people over the age of 65 will outnumber children under age 18. As more people live to older ages, they are expecting to work longer before retirement. According to the United States Department of Labor, since 1990 the amount of people over the age of 55 who are working has increased over 10 percent. In response to workers’ increased age, companies must now focus on how to best utilize the unique strengths and the needs of an aging workforce. Companies are vested in ensuring that their employees age optimally, both for the company and the worker’s benefit. With the age of retirement increasing, active aging is becoming more crucial in the context of work as people spend more time working.
According to the World Health Organization, active aging is “the process of optimizing opportunities for health, participation, and security in order to enhance quality of life as people age” (Zacher, Kooij, & Beier, 2018). This optimization requires the efforts of both the aging individual worker and the company who employs the worker. The individual worker seeks to maximize their experience in the workforce as they age and become a senior worker. Meanwhile, the company must actively adapt to the factors that both predict older workers’ success and help them succeed in the workforce. According to a study on active aging in the workforce, a balance of losses and gains is the key to successful active aging. As age increases, physical abilities decline, while accumulated knowledge increases. If a company can successfully leverage these inherent strengths and weaknesses, then they can both boost senior workers’ experiences and the productivity of their workplace. When companies successfully accomplished this balance of losses and gains, workers reported higher job satisfaction. Conversely, when companies required older workers to do physically exerting tasks, focusing on their weaknesses, older workers experienced a decline in job satisfaction and discrimination (Zacher, Kooij, & Beier, 2018).
Successful balancing of declining physical abilities with increasing knowledge and experience leads to higher reports of job satisfaction among older workers, in addition to increasing areas in which older workers can benefit the workforce (Zacher, Kooij, & Bejer, 2018). Acknowledgment of this balance is crucial to the fostering of an inclusive and cohesive workforce.
Overall, this study indicated that increased workers’ age provides significant advantages when companies leverage them well. In a society where discrimination based on age is a socially normalized prejudice, acknowledging the benefits of older workers will require an overall mindset shift. Instead of simply allowing older workers the opportunity to work or trying to manage workers' aging process, organizations should embrace a perspective that values the accumulated experience and knowledge that comes with age, thereby maximizing both the workers' and organizations' outcomes.
United States Department of Labor (2018, October 20). BLS Data Viewer. Retrieved from https://beta.bls.gov/dataViewer/view/timeseries/LNS11324230
Vespa, J. (2018, March 13). The U.S. Joins Other Countries With Large Aging Populations [Web blog post]. Retrieved from https://www.census.gov/library/stories/2018/03/graying-america.html
World Health Organization. (2018). Ageing and life-course. Retrieved from http://www.who.int/ageing/ageism/en/
Zacher, H., Koiij, D.T.A.M., & Beier, M.E. (2018). Active aging at work: Contributing factors and implications for organizations. Organizational Dynamics, 47(1), 37-45. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.orgdyn.2017.08.001