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Dec 2016

An aging workforce brings with it invaluable experience


older experienced man in black shirt

In October, the United States Department of Labor allotted over 140 million dollars in grants to 19 non-profit organizations. These grants were provided specifically for these organizations to allow the opportunity for unemployed, elderly individuals to receive non-profit employment training. The end goal? To equip more low-income elderly workers with the skills to expand their work capabilities. However, the benefits don’t stop with the trainees. The non-profit organizations participating are receiving an invaluable resource as well. A resource molded and fashioned by the rigors of life. The resource that is a culmination of experience, wisdom, and hard-work. The resource of age.

Aging as a Resource

Certainly, there are potential issues with age in the workplace. As a person ages, there are higher risks of health impairments; such as heart disease. Older workers may experience a loss of stability, may not react as quickly to potential dangers, or could experience diminishing senses; such as sight and hearing. Yet, despite the risks associate with older workers, they can serve a unique and vital purpose in the workplace

Though older workers may not be able to carry out some of the same duties as their counterparts, there are ways that employers can use older workers in contrast to younger ones. First and foremost, employers should consider incorporating the practice of Productive Aging. The mindset of aging productively is to focus on ways older employees can implement and share their unique life experiences within the workplace. All in order to effectively improve the health and safety of other workers. 

Incorporating Age

There are numerous ways employers can engage and utilize the unique leadership, wisdom, and life-skills that many older workers possess. One potential avenue for productive aging? The implementation of a mentor program within the workplace. Effective job training is absolutely crucial to the long-term development of a culture of safety. A training program that partners a new employee with an older, wiser, more experienced worker can help improve the training experience for the new employee. However, employers should be careful in selecting the correct individual to be a mentor/partner. Only employees with the character, leadership skills, and job knowledge should be used in this position.

Older workers don’t only offer leadership and experience to new workers. Rather, older workers can be gold-mines of advice, perspective, and intuition that even employers can utilize. Any manager, shift supervisor, or CEO should recognize the importance of employee perspective; especially the perspective of those who have been around a long time. Gauging employee satisfaction and concern with workplace topics (such as safety and health) is vitally important. Employers should consider consulting older workers when there is speculation or concern with a workplace topic. Holding town-hall meetings, or even talking privately with older workers can provide employers with valuable insight into the minds of the workforce.

Overlooking the benefits offered by a workforce that boasts a few older individuals is short-sighted. Certainly, some of the more concrete physical ailments of older workers can put some stress on the workplace. However, employers should never underestimate the intangibles that older workers have to offer. This can be a tough pill to swallow, as there is no metric to measure the influence of wisdom, integrity, and experience. However, these qualities are absolutely paramount in all walks of life. Including the workplace.

The process of productive aging can be a challenging one. Yet, taking the initiative and finding ways to channel the unique qualities older workers possess, and allowing those qualities to make a positive influence on the workplace is the first step. If improving the culture in the workplace is the end-goal, then engaging the skills and qualities of older workers can help propel the workplace towards that goal.

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