Put Em Out to Pasture... Or Milk Em for All They've Got

My 85-year old mother recently fell and broke her hip. Her rehab was extremely slow due to other medical issues. Taking time off from work to visit her in rehab and help out once she returned home was incredibly stressful. My experience is becoming the norm as Baby Boomers and their relatives continue to age.

According to Home Instead, the world will soon have over 100 million individuals over the age of 65. And 53 percent of individuals worldwide currently caring for aging parents or relatives are spending 40 hours or more per week with 37 percent spending 80 hours or more. The struggles facing family caregivers will create unique challenges in the workplace.

Aging workforce issues are also having an increased impact on businesses. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, between 1977 and 2007, employment of workers 65 years and older increased by 101 percent. This trend is likely to continue due to older workers delaying retirement and a declining pool of younger workers to replace them. By 2016, workers aged 55 to 64 are expected to increase by 36.5 percent and workers aged 65-75+ are expected to increase by 80 percent.

This demographic shift -- the Gray Shift -- presents new and very real issues for employers. A growing aging workforce will require employers to make more accommodations to attract and retain experienced talent. Offering compelling benefits targeted to mature workers will create a competitive advantage. If you are lucky to work for a company that allows flexibility and provides assistance with aging needs, you are definitely in the minority. Fewer than one in seven employers have adopted strategies that address this changing demographic.

Why should employers care? Mature workers bring a wealth of benefits to the workplace. They have a great work ethic, a can-do attitude and years of experience. For employers this translates to greater morale and loyalty, reduced replacement costs and a reservoir of key knowledge. In order to maximize the productivity of mature workers, employers need to consider making some accommodations. Some of these benefit offerings (like flexibility, training opportunities, and wellness programs) are appropriate for all generations, whereas others are geared specifically to the aging workforce.

Benefit ideas for the mature worker include flexible work hours, (part time work, telecommuting, job sharing, snowbird programs, career flexibility), training (access to classes, recognition of different learning styles, management awareness training), health & wellness programs (comprehensive medical coverage, discounts on pharmaceuticals and health screenings, fitness options specific to older workers), elder care resources (assisted living, nursing homes, in-home care, geriatric care managers) and retirement assistance (pre-retirement planning, phased retirement programs). In addition, other programs like retiree networks, mentoring, long-term care insurance, cafeteria benefit plans and ergonomic redesign should be considered.

The choice is clear....employers can dismiss the value of their older workers and put them out to pasture. Or they can allocate resources to address their unique needs and maximize their expertise and impact. If my company had offered elder care assistance to help me find appropriate in-home care for my mother, it would have saved me hours of research and reduced stress. Successful companies will make it a priority to create a workplace culture that embraces and encourages diversity, particularly focusing on the needs of today's largest workforce demographic, the Baby Boomers.

Cathy Leibow is a pioneer and leader in the Work/Life industry. For over 25 years, she has worked with employers to offer benefit programs that enable employees to better balance their work and family lives. In 1987, Ms.Leibow founded a Work/Life company called FamilyCare . She sold her business in 2006 but continued to provide EAP, Work/Life, Wellness and Concierge services to Fortune 1000 companies. She is an expert on child care and aging workforce issues. She also provided consulting services for the Great Place to Work Institute in order to create positive culture change and "best place to work" recognition. Premier clients include Apple, Genentech, Texas Instruments, Fidelity Investments, Nordstrom, LSI Logic, Hitachi Data Systems and Advanced Micro Devices. Ms. Leibow can be reached at cleibow2@gmail.com.