Sunday, May 20, 2007


Mixed Signals About Older Workers

Here is a study in ambivalence. One of the links below is an article from The Christian Science Monitor that asserts that, even though older workers may cost more - due primarily to the increased cost in medical benefits - they are worth more, too. They have a "work ethic", and many years of valuable experience. Plus, around 70 percent of older workers - defined as those over 50 - will either want or need to stay working after retirement age. The fact that the proportion of individuals of prime working age is expected to decline in coming years might, you think, make experienced and motivated older workers more attractive to employers. Unfortunately, that is not the case. According to a survey conducted by Manpower, only 18 percent of U.S. corporations have a "strategy for recruiting older workers."
The Monitor article nonetheless cites cases in which employers initially reluctant to take on "over 50" workers extol their talents in retrospect - as well as other cases, sadder ones no doubt, of experienced workers searching for work and getting the old "you're overqualified" excuse. Some of those quoted cast the aspirations of older workers in impossibly roseate terms. "We're right in the middle of an enormous transformation from an ethic that was focused on leisure to one that is focused on work," one author chimes in. "The old dream was the freedom from work – the liberation from labor. The new dream is freedom to work, on new terms." Well, maybe - but I think most retirees hankering for a position as a greeter at Walmart need the money more than the, ahem, "fulfillment." The tone of the article, although oh, so well-meaning, is actually rather fulsome - reminiscent, in its way, of the way "nice people" were thinking of certain minority group members in the very early days of the Civil Rights Era. This resemblance merely underscores how far we have to go to see value of any kind in anyone with graying hair.

The other link is to a no-nonsense report from a human resources rag, and it is all facts and figures. None of which look good. Although 18 percent of U.S. corporations have recruitment strategies for older workers, there are regional variations. The figure is highest in the South, at 22 percent, and lowest in the Northeast, at 15 percent. This difference is especially sobering when you consider how much more expensive it is to live in the Northeast than in the South, and also when you realize that the pay scale is lower in the South. The implication here is that, if you live in New York or Boston, you will need to retire to Florida to remain gainfully employed. Only 28 percent of American corporations have a "formal retention strategy" for older workers, while the comparable figures in Japan and Singapore are 83 percent and 53 percent, respectively. And, again, there are regional variations - with the West leading the way at 34 percent.

The factors that drive the demand - such as it is - for older workers include size of the labor pool, the demographic profile of the labor pool, the perception of labor shortages, and - tellingly - government programs to support and promote the employment of older workers. America's workforce is aging even as the demand for labor is expected to increase, but a survey of 400 U.S. employers indicates that most corporations remain "lukewarm" about hiring older workers. This reluctance is deeply ingrained. According to one analyst, "It appears that most employers worldwide are ignoring the demographic forecasts and evidence of growing talent shortages, and instead, still waiting to see it in their headlights before they begin to think differently about the older workforce." He adds, "By then, it could be too late to avoid the impact of large-scale retirements on the productivity and knowledge base of their company."

"'Age friendly' workplaces on the rise" from The Christian Science Monitor
"Employers Not Feeling the Love Toward Older Workers" from SHRMOnline (Society for Human Resource Management)

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