One Size Does Not Fit All for Employer’s Health & Wellness Strategies
Posted Tuesday, November 26th, 2013| Comments (0)
Aging U.S. Workers: The Fittest Thrive
Global health statistics are startling. According to the CDC, more than 50% of U.S. have more than one chronic condition. According to USAID, 20% of the Russian population has hypertension and the World Heart Federation reports that over the last two decades, the overweight population in Mexico has risen from 10% to 68%.
Given these and other disconcerting global trends, there is growing interest among employers to help manage the health of their employees and ultimately increase the productivity and engagement of their workers. More and more, they are looking to health and wellness programs to help them achieve key business outcomes.
Recently, a study, based on the 2011 Generations of Talent study, commissioned by MAXIS Global Benefits Network (GBN), in conjunction with the Sloan Center on Aging & Work at Boston College, found that while employees place a high value on health and wellness benefits, only 35% of respondents who span 11 countries are satisfied with the programs currently offered. Further, when employees are strongly dissatisfied with these benefits, the data suggests that they are at about 55% of their “maximum” commitment and 78% of their “maximum” work engagement.
The MAXIS GBN study found that levels of satisfaction with programs and the correlating employee engagement varied whether among Millennials, emerging markets or people in poor health. For instance, you might think that healthier, younger workers might not care about wellness benefits, but those at younger ages were more dissatisfied than older workers, and the link between satisfaction, engagement and commitment was stronger. Furthermore, the satisfaction gap between employees’ perceived value of and satisfaction with employer-sponsored health/ wellness initiatives was highest in developing countries such as Brazil, Mexico, India and China. And, across all markets, workers in poor health reported being much less satisfied overall with health and wellness resources. In addition, that low satisfaction negatively colored their perception of how able they are to work.
Clearly, a one size fits all approach is not the answer. While no program can meet all expectations, it is important to ensure a better match between employee needs and benefits offered. A tailored approach is crucial in developing effective health and wellness programs.
Recognizing the gap in satisfaction and employers’ growing need to address the health and productivity of their workforce, MAXIS GBN, a partnership between MetLife and AXA, works closely with companies to develop and implement health strategies for every stage of their employees’ health journey.
MAXIS GBN believes that the answer for employers is to keep it simple, but well-directed:
- Focus efforts on the groups reporting the lowest satisfaction scores. The challenge is to meet the expectations of those who highly value health and wellness but are unhappy with the status quo.
- Seek input from various stakeholders during design, implementation and review of programming. This will help companies to understand what’s working and what’s not. Different workers have different needs and interests which vary by country, age, gender, job, health status and lifestyle.
- Act on it… Think simple. Programming and resources don’t have to be expensive … relevancy to each audience is what counts. Companies should test different programming and communication approaches and see what works.
Companies have an opportunity to broaden their current health and wellness programs by building a global strategy that is linked to in-market initiatives. Taking a holistic view of health and wellness by creating a global strategy will help employees live healthier lives and impact the bottom-line of companies.The strategy should be driven by data and included adapted market-specific solutions.
Posted Wednesday, November 13th, 2013| Comments (2)
Out in the Cold
By the time people reach their mid-60s, two out of three have retired, either voluntarily or because they’re unable to keep or find a job. By age 75, nine out of ten are out of the labor force.
But the minority who do continue working aren’t just survivors—they’re thrivers. Think novelist Toni Morrison, rocker Neil Young, or the older person who still comes into your office every day.
The earnings of U.S. workers in their 60s and 70s are rising faster than earnings for people in their prime working years, according to a new study. Defying the stereotype that they’re marking time, today’s older workers are also just as productive as people in their prime working years.
Driving these trends is education: far more older Americans now have a college degree than they once did.
There’s a “perception that the aged are less healthy, less educated, less up-to-date in their knowledge and more fragile than the young,” but this does “not necessarily describe the people who choose or who are permitted to remain in paid employment at older ages,” Gary Burtless, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, concluded in his study.
The experience of age 60-plus workers is becoming increasingly important, because there are more of them in this country than there ever have been—a rising trend that will continue. The obvious reason for their growing numbers is the baby boom bulge. The oldest boomers turn 67 this year. But more people are also delaying their retirement, whether due to financial necessity, good health, or a love of work.
Burtless’ study looked in great detail at the dramatic gains since 1985 that have been achieved by older U.S. workers—ages 60 to 74—by comparing how well they’ve done relative to people in their prime working years, ages 35 to 54. He gauged their progress, compared with younger adults, using three measures:
More Education. In 1985, just 11 percent of older Americans had graduated from college, compared with 23 percent of younger adults. Today, roughly one-third of people in each age group have degrees.
Earnings Growth. Older men have seen enormous increases in their pay: in 1985, they earned just 70 cents for every $1.00 of average annual income—wages plus self-employment income—earned by adult men in their prime. By 2010, that had jumped to 92 cents.
Older women’s annual incomes are also increasing faster than the incomes of women in their prime, according to the study published by the Center for Retirement Research, which also supports this blog. But older women still haven’t caught up with prime-age workers to the extent that older men have.
Productivity Gains. It is no longer true that older workers are less productive than employees in their peak working years. Burtless found that older men’s hourly wages—his unit of measurement for comparing productivity—have caught up with hourly wages for workers in their prime. Older women have somewhat closed the gap with younger women.
The workforce of older Americans is not only getting bigger. What Burtless shows is that their status in the labor force is also getting better.
Posted Wednesday, October 30th, 2013| Comments (4)
How Managers View Workplace Flexibility
Why there are still millions of unemployed older workers, and what the U.S. should do about that
Being unemployed is frustrating, demeaning, and…frightening. Articles in the paper say we “baby boomers” will have to work for a few more years, especially since so many of us have lost half if not more in retirement “funds.” Now, you tell me, how can I work for a few more years if I can’t even get a job interview?
— Older unemployed worker quoted in Working Scared (Or Not At All): The Lost Decade, Great Recession, and Restoring the Shattered American Dream (Rowman and Littlefield, 2013).
During and after the Great Recession, millions of older unemployed workers struggled to regain a toehold in the labor market. A staggering percentage of the unemployed over age 50 (estimated on the basis of a nationally representative sample tracked from 2009 to 2011 by the Heldrich Center for Workforce Development) were jobless for a long time. In 2011, we re-interviewed workers who lost their job during the depth of the recession in 2009: 80 percent had been searching for more than a year, and almost half had been jobless for more than two years.
Today, more than 2 million older Americans who would work if they could are jobless. Extensive national surveys of older displaced workers provide overwhelming evidence that the vast majority are unemployed for two reasons: workforce demand overall is depressed and employers typically seek younger workers. Extensive national surveys of older displaced workers, including recent research featured in The Atlantic, makes it clear that the stigma of long-term unemployment suffered by older Americans is killing their prospects for reemployment.
Older workers’ long-term unemployment experience is not due to their lack of effort to find another job. In fact, the vast majority of those interviewed by the Heldrich Center for its “Work Trends” surveys diligently sought work, by scouring ads and online job postings and by contacting friends, family, and potential employers.
Nor did these older Americans remain jobless because they refused to work for less money. Two out of three unemployed respondents told Heldrich Center researchers that they would accept a pay cut to land a position. “Work Trends” surveys revealed that six in ten reemployed older workers earned less than they had previously, and 14 percent earned less than half as much.
The especially bleak job prospects for older workers in a generally poor labor market are the by-product of employers’ perceptions about mature workers. Too many employers assume that older workers are more expensive, less productive, and less flexible than younger employees. Employers fret that older workers’ skills have atrophied during months and years of unemployment. Employers may also be reluctant to hire workers who have less than a decade remaining in their careers. Gary Burtless, a scholar at the Brookings Institution, found scant evidence that an aging workforce has hurt U.S. productivity. Even so, employers’ negative views about older workers linger.
Thousands of older workers realize that in order to land another job they need additional education and training. Yet, Heldrich Center research found that few have been able to do so. According to the Center’s surveys, only 14 percent of unemployed workers were enrolled in programs to upgrade their skills and less than 38 percent got financial help to participate in such programs from government sources.
Contemporary workforce development policies are not well-suited to the needs of the long-term unemployed, according to reports by the U.S. Government Accountability Office and the Council on Adult and Experiential Learning. This is especially true for older workers, who may be able to get another job only after extensive retraining. Unfortunately, the federal government’s principal strategies for assisting unemployed workers consist of partial income replacement through unemployment insurance, job placement services, or short-term training programs.
Many policy makers are ignoring older unemployed Americans. Others blame them, discounting the prodigious efforts most make to find jobs. It’s time for policy makers to redesign and fund the workforce and education programs that older unemployed people desperately need so they can return to work.
Posted Wednesday, October 16th, 2013| Comments (0)
Investing in an Aging Workforce: Universal Design and Health Promotion Can Pay off in Productivity Gains
Their attitudes matter, because what they see is what employees (and companies) get
Research has shown that flexible work options enhance employee effectiveness. And yet, like good jobs in general, access to these options is limited and inconsistent.
Managers are almost always the gatekeepers of flexible work options. They can (and commonly do) ignore policies that discourage or even prohibit flexible work options, by providing those they supervise with informal access. They also can (and commonly do) restrict or penalize access in both implicit and explicit ways, putting flexible work options that are on the books out of employees’ reach.
Given this locus of power, it’s worth investigating what managers really think about flexibility and how firmly they hold their opinions. To find out, in June 2012 we surveyed 1,093 managers who work for a large employer in the finance and insurance super-sector—a quarter of that company’s managerial staff. The respondents were not only familiar with the survey topic but also had some experience with it in practice. Of course, the attitudes toward flexibility that we uncovered are not necessarily those of managers in other industries or organizations. Nonetheless, the responses to the questions we posed offer at least a glimpse of what managers in general think about workplace flexibility.
Measures of the range and strength of managers’ attitudes
We considered managers’ attitudes toward two types of flexibility: schedule flexibility (when employees work, such as being able to work earlier or later in the day, in compressed workweeks, or on some other schedule) and place flexibility (where people work, such as in a home office or off-site).
Figure 1 captures the range of managers’ attitudes toward three commonly suggested benefits of flexible work:
- Increases motivation
- Improves concentration
- Increases productivity
As the figure shows, managers tend to view both schedule and place flexible work options as beneficial. They are quite confident that these two types of flexibility enhance workers’ sense of motivation. In contrast, they are somewhat less confident that productivity and concentration improve.
To test the strength of the attitudes suggested by these responses, we turned our questions around and asked about the consequences of flexible work options from the negative standpoint of business risk. We wondered if, in this context, managers’ attitudes toward workplace flexibility would appear less favorable. Figure 2 captures managers’ attitudes toward five possible negative consequences of workplace flexibility:
- Makes managing employees more difficult
Decreases organizational commitment
Leads to isolation
Decreases opportunities for employees to learn from one another (that is, mutual learning)
Here agreement indicates doubt that flexible work options are good for business.
Asking the questions this way revealed a marked, and previously unseen, difference in the way managers view schedule flexibility in comparison with place flexibility. Schedule flexibility does not worry them, but they see place flexibility as somewhat more risky in general, particularly with regard to opportunities for mutual learning among employees. Notwithstanding this skepticism, most managers were neutral or disagreed that negative outcomes (other than barriers to mutual learning) were likely with either type of flexibility.
What employers can do to achieve consistent access to flexibility
Our analysis of the survey results also showed that attitudes toward the two types of flexibility go hand in hand. Where managerial attitudes are positive, this is good news, because combining the two options is the best bet for work/life fit for many employees. For example, an employee who wants to start work later than usual on some days might also want to work at home once or twice a week. A manager who is open to either option is very likely to view both options favorably. Unfortunately, the reverse is also true. A manager who distrusts either option is also likely to distrust and close the door on both.
Our study suggests two tasks for employers who want to offer flexible work options consistently. They can support managers whose attitudes toward these options are favorable, by explaining clearly how workplace flexibility may benefit the organization. They can also convert skeptical managers, by presenting concrete evidence of workplace flexibility’s successes.
Posted Wednesday, October 2nd, 2013| Comment (1)
The Broken System of Long-term Care in America
We all know—perhaps too well—that biology matters. As we age, our vision and balance deteriorate. We have “senior moments.” You’d think that the changes that most of us experience as we age would have a negative impact on our productivity. To the contrary, research published this spring showed that workers between the ages of 60 and 74 are, in fact, more productive, on average, than their younger counterparts.
How can this be? Furthermore, if age-related physiological changes don’t necessarily lower overall productivity, should employers adapt to changing workforce demographics by designing “age-friendly” workplaces?
In 2007, a major automaker conducted a unique experiment. Their results suggest that adapting workplaces to complement mature workers’ physical abilities can have real bottom-line benefits.
Recognizing the speed at which BMW’s workforce was aging, managers and engineers at a plant in Germany staffed one of the production lines so that the average age of the workers on that line equaled the BMW workforce’s projected average age in 2017. Modifications in the production process—suggested by the workers themselves and costing less than $50,000 to implement—resulted in a boost in productivity. The solutions were simple design changes, such as better lighting, adjustable magnifying glasses, computer displays with adjustable font sizes and forgiving flooring material. These, in turn, optimized the true potential of the autoworkers’ skills and experience. BMW’s design solutions could be considered “universal design” solutions, because they met the needs of a wide range of physical abilities. Better lighting is likely to improve productivity for older and younger workers alike.
The BMW experiment is consistent with other research indicating that older workers’ skills and experience can be more than enough to compensate for many age-related physiological changes.
What about other costs related to employee health and physical abilities?
From as far back as 1977, relatively clear patterns appear in the data on occupational injuries—the primary driver of an employer’s workers-compensation insurance costs.
Frequency of injuries: On the whole, the frequency of occupational injuries neither increases nor decreases over employees’ working lives. Some types of work-related injuries, though, including slips, trips and falls, tend to occur more frequently with increasing age—suggesting opportunities for saving on workers’ compensation premiums through targeted prevention programs.
Severity of injuries: When an older worker is injured, the injury tends to be more severe than when a younger worker is injured. The incidence of workplace fatalities rises with advancing age and the amount of time workers spend recovering from injury increases with age, too. The increasing severity of injuries is likely due to declines in the overall health of older employees, who tend to have more chronic disease.
Work-site health promotion programs and evidence-based screening tests will be increasingly important tools for employers to offer as the workforce ages. In addition to benefitting an aging workforce, these programs can support a generation of younger workers who are less healthy, on average, than previous generations.
The big question for many U.S. employers is whether —like BMW—they are willing to address these challenges head on. Designing workplaces that are “age-friendly” may require some difficult conversations. There are laws, after all, that protect workers from age discrimination, so conversations about aging at work can be particularly sensitive.
Promising case studies, such as a pilot research project underway at Children’s Hospital Colorado, may provide useful lessons. Children’s Hospital, a leading pediatric health-care system, has joined with researchers at the University of Colorado to study what health-care organizations can do to optimize the skills and experience of aging health-care workers, much the way BMW optimized its older autoworkers’ skills and experience. The team thinks that by adhering to the principles of universal design, by talking candidly with employees and managers in the hospital, and by reducing slip, trip, and fall hazards, Children’s Hospital can improve on its already stellar record as an employer.
When asked why Children’s Hospital is working on the project, the hospital’s occupational health manager, Roberta Smith, said, “When you think about it, the things that are safer for older workers are good for younger workers, too. It’s a no-brainer. Preparing for an older workforce is also going to help our younger employees age well.”
Posted Wednesday, September 18th, 2013| Comments (6)
Hitting The Intergenerational Sweet Spot
Employees and employers alike bear the costs
If you’re helping an older parent or spouse meet long-term care needs, join the crowd. One out of five workers in the United States spends an average of 20 hours a week caring for elder family members. These unpaid services have an estimated value of $230 billion a year—$20 billion more than the $210 billion that Medicaid pays each year for long-term care.
Providing these unpaid services imposes high indirect costs on employers, in the form of reduced productivity, absenteeism, a workforce whose own health is compromised by neglect and stress, and higher turnover, as workers leave their jobs to devote themselves to caregiving. All told, these problems cost U.S. employers $33.6 billion a year.
ReACT (Respect a Caregiver’s Time) is a coalition of companies and organizations focused on employers and employed caregivers. In 2012 this organization commissioned the National Alliance for Caregiving (NAC) to examine “best practices in workplace eldercare.” The NAC studied the eldercare programs of 18 corporations in an array of industries with workforces ranging from 35 to 118,000 employees. The models were as ad hoc as volunteer programs managed by employees who had done caregiving themselves and as formal as paid time off for emergency eldercare situations. Interestingly, paid time off for caregiving was offered only by the smallest company (35 employees), which did so as a strategy for retaining valuable talent. Now ReACT is working with AARP to design a Web site with information and ideas for employers and employees.
Thirty years ago, Elaine Brody, a gerontologist, suggested that family caregiving was becoming a “normative” experience. Surveys confirm that increasing numbers of Americans care for an adult or elder with long-term care needs. As 70 million baby boomers lurch into late life, we can count on increasing demand for long-term care services for at least two decades. Absent a national system that provides high quality, long-term nonmedical and medical care, families will continue to underwrite the true cost of long-term care with time, money, and diminished retirement savings. Employers will also continue to subsidize informal caregiving indirectly, whether or not they also invest in support programs directly.
These facts prompt a host of questions and reactions. Do American families generally have even a basic understanding of how long-term care is delivered and paid for here? Many caregivers are stunned to discover that Medicare does not cover long-term care. Many find it repugnant that their elderly parents are required to spend all of their resources before they can qualify for help from the only public payer–Medicaid. And many caregivers pick up the costs of care themselves, regardless of the burden. Why is there no political demand for subsidized long-term care, given the large number of families coping with the fragmented system now in place? If care has become a normative activity, as Ms. Brody predicted, do families consider it only a personal matter—not a political one?
What about employers? How long will the nation’s employers subsidize the lack of a comprehensive system of long-term care?
This past January, Congress established a Commission on Long-Term Care, and gave it a 2014 deadline to develop a “comprehensive, coordinated and high-quality system” of long-term care. It’s time for a powerful partnership of voters, representing current and future caregivers, to join with employers to demand serious solutions for our long-term care problem.
Posted Wednesday, September 4th, 2013| Comments (0)
The American Spirit of Encore Careers
There’s no hotter topic in human resource management at present than how to manage Millennials (aka Generation Y), the age 30-and-under members of the workforce. Millennials are the “kids nowadays!” that managers from previous generations fret about. Typical challenges older people experience in working with Millennials surfaced during a conversation I recently had with a group of executives. For example: “I used to be able to give an order to a young employee and expect it to be carried out at once. Now I have to spend 20 minutes explaining why it’s important.”
The stereotype Millennials get tagged with goes like this: they are a generation of smartphone addicts who live for feedback and praise, lack appropriate deference, feel entitled to rapid advancement but are unwilling to “pay their dues,” prioritize personal life and work-life balance over employers’ needs, and think they should be able to work wherever, whenever, and however they want. Although this portrait drives a robust market for multigenerational workforce training, it misconstrues the qualities of employees born in the last two decades of the 20th century — while over-hyping the differences between them and older employees.
There is an intergenerational sweet spot we should aim for, a point of maximum engagement for all employees. But we miss it by fixating on minor differences and taking them out of context, and by failing to appreciate the similarities among employees of different ages. If you find it challenging to relate to and motivate your youngest employees, it’s likely that you attribute this at least in part to differences between your generation and theirs. After all, what generation hasn’t been baffled by the behaviors of the succeeding one or questioned its values? A recent Time magazine article on the Millennials offered this quote from a forty-something writer: “Veteran teachers are saying that never in their experience were young people so thirstily avid of pleasure as now…so selfish.” The source of the quote? A letter published in The Atlantic in 1911.
What have we learned from comparative research on generations? Large-scale studies using random samples and validated measures have found only slight differences in the job attitudes and values of Millennials and members of older generations. Furthermore, the differences are most often due to factors other than generational membership. For instance, take the common perception that Millennials are much more likely to hop from one employer to another. It turns out that tenure is a much more important predictor of intention to quit; i.e., people who have worked longer for an employer are less likely to leave. Millennials have shorter tenure than older employees on average simply because they have worked for fewer years. On this and other observed differences, mistaking correlation for causation contributes heavily to the Millennial stereotype. Understanding what’s behind the behavioral and attitudinal differences managers perceive among members of different generations is an important step towards reaching an intergenerational sweet spot.
One significant way in which Millennials are different from older generations is their relationship to and facility with technology. Using computers and social technology extensively since birth has shaped the ways in which they search for information, solve problems, relate to others, and communicate. They are adept at finding information and expect it to be readily available. They are comfortable reaching out directly to people in a way that can be disconcerting to older employees whose workplace relationships have traditionally been constrained by the organization’s hierarchy. As Nilofer Merchant has observed, social technology is changing the nature of power in organizations. When you are accustomed to and skilled at finding and freely sharing information, it makes no sense to have information locked up in various parts of an organizational structure. In fact, it feels frustratingly antiquated. What this means for older managers: they must shift from being controllers of information to facilitators of its sharing and collaborative use towards achieving organizational goals.
A second change that bears mentioning is the relative weakness of the psychological contract between Millennials and organizations. Contrary to the stereotype, this is not because people in this age range lack commitment or the capacity for loyalty. Rather, it’s a logical and predictable social evolution in response to the general weakening of the employment contract in our society, driven by management practices that have reduced job and employment security for most people in the workforce. Since individuals bear the ultimate responsibility for the management of their own careers, it is unrealistic to expect total devotion to an employer. On the other hand, if your organization wants to strengthen the psychological contract, it’s crucial to understand what motivates Millennials. The most powerful tool to build Millennials’ commitment to the organization is this: offering regular opportunities to learn and develop — not just through training, but through a variety of challenging tasks, the opportunity to work with people who impart valuable knowledge, and regular developmental feedback. As it turns out, this is how you build commitment in employees of all ages.
This brings me to my most important point: it’s essential for managers to understand and respond to the similarities among the generations currently in the workforce. Research from the University of North Carolina shows that Millennials want the same things from their employers that Generation X and Baby Boomers do: challenging, meaningful work; opportunities for learning, development and advancement; support to successfully integrate work and personal life; fair treatment and competitive compensation. What’s more, all three generations agree on the characteristics of an ideal leader: a person who leads by example, is accessible, acts as a coach and mentor, helps employees see how their roles contribute to the organization, and challenges others and holds them accountable.
So remember to ask yourself the following two questions when you start to feel frustrated by a Millennial employee: 1) What factors in the employee’s experience might be causing this behavior? and 2) Is this person really so different from older employees? Here’s a final example: the much-discussed desire of Millennials for flexible work options. First, consider things from the millennial perspective. One of the reasons why Millennials place so much value on flexible work is that they have been using technology to work flexibly all their lives. In some cases, they have a better understanding of how to work flexibly than do their managers. Second, are they unique in wanting flexibility? No. It turns out that Generation X and Baby Boomers value workplace flexibility just as much. Now consider why this similarity exists: at its basis, flexibility is fundamentally about having control over the conditions of one’s work and having the trust and respect of one’s manager and employer. Research established these as key factors in motivation and commitment long before the invention of the smartphone.
Regardless of what generation you represent, being self-aware and learning to understand others’ perspectives will make you more effective at work. If you are a Millennial, overcoming the negative stereotype requires that you convey the following core message through your behavior, day in and day out: I’m here to work hard, contribute to the organization, learn from you, and develop my skills. If you manage Millennials, your daily behavior should transmit this message: I value and trust you, am committed to helping you perform at your best, and care about the quality of your experience in this organization.
Improving your ability to relate to Millennials will make you a better manager of all your employees. Because despite what the stereotype might suggest, effectively engaging Millennials is not about letting employees wear jeans and bring their dogs to work, dude. The key is providing challenging, meaningful work, communicating, helping employees to see their contribution, and making sure they have opportunities to learn and grow. The best manager for Millennials, GenXers, and Baby Boomers is a person who has a coaching orientation, who is aware of employees’ talents and interests, who both supports them and pushes them to perform at higher levels than they believed they could, and who cares about the quality of their experience. Work towards that, and you’ll hit the intergenerational sweet spot.
Posted Wednesday, August 7th, 2013| Comments (8)
The Best Life
A happy marriage of volunteering, work, and entrepreneurship
An encore career—one initiated later in life—is usually not just about the money. Instead, this growing movement combines purpose, passion, and a paycheck in service to the greater good. By marrying the best of volunteering, work, and entrepreneurship, the encore career is rooted in American tradition—our history and values.
Volunteerism and vocation
Volunteers built this country and shaped American society. During colonial times, men pooled their efforts to clear land and raise barns; women helped one another with annual house cleaning. Volunteers established churches, donating land, materials, and money so their communities could have their own places to worship. In the 1600s, colonists in Philadelphia, Boston, and New York formed citizen fire brigades. Three and half centuries later, the United States is known as a society of volunteers. Continuous with the tradition of volunteerism is the desire for vocation—for work that has personal meaning and social resonance.
Currently, 64.5 million Americans (more than a quarter of the U.S. population) are volunteers. As of 2010, they were estimated to be providing about 8 billion hours of service a year, valued at $173 billion.
Just as volunteerism is central to American values, so is work. The American work ethic arose from the Puritan belief that hard work is an honor to God leading to a prosperous reward. According to the National Bureau of Economic Research, Americans work more than Europeans do. For better or worse, we take less vacation, work longer days, and retire later in life.
Entrepreneurship is another American ideal. For entrepreneurship to thrive, certain social conditions must exist: political stability and rule of law, absence of bureaucratic and regulatory barriers to incorporation, and incentives for people to invest their own capital in new businesses1. We have them all, and older adults know it. The Kaufman Foundation reports that Americans between the ages of 55 and 64 had a higher rate of entrepreneurial activity than those between the ages of 20 and 34.
Putting the pieces together
Decades ago, the nonprofit world attempted to launch initiatives somewhat similar to the current encore movement.
In 1976, the Volunteer Center of Los Angeles launched the nonprofit organization Second Careers. Its purpose was to steer business retirees into important and fulfilling volunteer jobs among community service agencies in Los Angeles. This project’s social purpose was evident; the pay was not.
In 1981, the Los Angeles Council on Careers for Older Americans morphed into the nonprofit organization Career Encores. Its purpose was to help older adults find jobs, through an array of employment services. Work for pay was present; social purpose was not.
Both of these organizations focused on encore work life but did so piecemeal, and neither exists today.
Not until the Baby Boom generation neared retirement did the concept of meaningful, entrepreneurial paid work with a social purpose ignite into a movement. Baby Boomers looked at the world of work and asked the same question raised by women in Betty Friedan’s 1963 book, The Feminine Mystique: “Is this all?”
The encore movement is a response to that question. This movement is a timely transformation of expectations as we age—an expression of Americans’ passion to solve social problems and of our willingness to reach for the brass ring, with all of the risks and rewards that attend the gesture.
The marriage of volunteering, work, and social entrepreneurship is a natural outgrowth of the American tradition of volunteerism and our work ethic. The time is right for encore careers. And so a new question arises: “What are our professional and personal roles in making this innovative movement a new root of American culture and values?”
Posted Wednesday, July 24th, 2013| Comments (5)
Learning from Our Children
Challenges of an Aging American Workforce
The aging American workplace will likely emerge as one of the dominant economic and human interest stories of the next 10 to 20 years. Many employers acknowledge the accumulated skills and wisdom older employees often possess. But employers also wrestle with a host of higher costs that many older employees incur – from higher pay levels to more expensive charges for health and disability insurance and other benefits.
In demographic terms, about 10,000 baby boomers in the United States will turn 65 every day until about the year 2030, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Some years, this daily average will exceed 13,000. We see these and similar numbers all the time, and then we go about our daily lives while the impact of this age wave continues to accumulate and pose a growing set of challenges.
In retirement terms, the Great Recession shattered any notion that retirement would be a positive experience for millions of older Americans. The reality of inadequate retirement savings was masked by soaring values of real estate and other assets.
The 2013 Retirement Confidence Survey sponsored by the Employee Benefit Research Institute found only 24 percent of workers at least 55 years old have set aside more than $250,000 for retirement (excluding the value of their primary residence and any traditional pensions). More startling, 36 percent of this group have saved less than $10,000. (The survey included 1,254 individuals, of which 251 were retirees.)
Looking at this reality, economist Alicia Munnell, head of the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College, says Americans’ stark retirement futures give them only three realistic options: 1) Be poor. 2) Save more money, and be a little less poor. 3) Keep working. Increasingly, more older Americans are choosing the financial equivalent of door number three.
Even with more baby boomers extending their careers, large numbers of boomers will still retire, and finding enough new workers will be a growing challenge for many employers. The numbers of new entrants into the workforce is likely to fall short of the total of boomers headed for the exits. Immigrants could help ease this projected shortage, but it’s not clear if even a successful reform of the country’s immigration laws would lead to large increases in new immigrants.
Thus, employers will need to confront a number of challenges to accommodate more older employees. Among them are intergenerational relationships, age discrimination, physical job demands, training and flexible work schedules. Employers who successfully attract, retain, train and motivate older employees may enjoy a competitive edge, but it will be a big adjustment from the youth-centric culture of many workplaces.
Every year, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics takes an in-depth look at the age composition of the nation’s workforce. The agency is not allowed to release data that would identify individual employers or specific workplaces, but it does report detailed information on the age composition of the workforce by industry and occupation. On average, more than 16 percent of employed Americans last year were between ages 55 and 64. Roughly 5 percent were at least 65 years old. Added together, about one-fifth of employed workers were at least 55 years old.
However, looking at occupational breakdowns reveals that many jobs with older-worker concentrations double and even triple this average. As the following table illustrates, some professions naturally retain older experts – clergymen, for example. In other cases, professions are dying and unable to provide attractive opportunities for newcomers. Based on these statistics, proofreaders, print binders, tool makers and postal service clerks are all professions parents are not likely to recommend to their children. Becoming a farmer or travel agent may also be off the table.
|2012 Occupations with Oldest Jobholders
||Ages of Jobholders (%)
|Funeral service managers
|Motor vehicle operators, all other
|Model makers and patternmakers, metal and plastic
|Farmers, ranchers, and other agricultural managers
|Judges, magistrates, and other judicial workers
|Proofreaders and copy markers
|Print binding and finishing workers
|Tool and die makers
|Postal service clerks
|Embalmers and funeral attendants
|Religious workers, all other
|Models, demonstrators, and product promoters
|Construction and building inspectors
|Judicial law clerks
|Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics
Yet looking at professions with larger numbers of jobholders produces a list with smaller percentages of older people but larger numbers of these individuals overall. Here is a list of five occupations with both large numbers of jobholders and above-average concentrations of older employees.
|Large Occupations with Heavy Concentrations of Older Jobholders
||2012 Jobs (000s)
||Aged 55+ (%)
||Aged 55+ (000s)
|Bookkeepers, accounting, and auditing clerks
|Secretaries and administrative assistants
|Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics
Now, there are not exactly cries of anguish that there might be an aging crisis among chief executives. But occupations like the ones listed above are certainly facing an age tsunami, or will be when the slow pace of the economic recovery produces labor shortages.
Right now, there is more concern that unemployment rates remain too high this late into a recovery. Clearly, technology and global competition have played an important, if hard-to-define, role in limiting job growth. Government fiscal policy has also turned negative due to the sequester and other spending cuts.
But, slow or not, job growth is coming. And the nation’s workplaces are going to get grayer.
Copyright U.S. News & World Report, L.P. All rights reserved. U.S. News & World Report is a registered trademark of U.S. News & World Report, L.P. The display of this article does not constitute an endorsement by U.S. News & World Report of any product or service.”
Posted Wednesday, July 10th, 2013| Comments Off
What Gen-Ys can teach older job seekers
Much has been written about the struggles that members of Generation Y are having in the job market. Even so, at least half of new college graduates are landing good jobs. Research for my new book, Graduate to a Great Job, produced important insights about what works—and what doesn’t—in navigating today’s job market. Although older job seekers face some different challenges, they can learn from the experiences of Gen-Ys who are successfully launching careers.
Here are four keys to success:
1. Keep clarifying how you are going to add value. That’s all employers care about today. Job seekers waste tremendous time and effort describing their personal qualifications for a job—e.g. organized, team-oriented. Lily, an art history major from the University of California at Santa Barbara, recalls:
“After graduation I started applying for jobs with no focus except to work at a place that was young and fun. I just told companies I wanted to work hard and learn. But I got no response 99% of the time.”
New college graduates often learn the hard way that focus is everything when looking for a job today. The same rule applies to more experienced candidates. Instead of pursing openings that “look interesting,” concentrate on identifying specific positions where you can clearly add value. Then dive in and educate yourself about the employer’s challenges and identify solutions that will make you a stronger candidate.
2. Applicant tracking systems: Welcome to the black hole of the job search. The most startling lesson from my research was that no matter how old you are, if you don’t understand how an applicant tracking system (ATS) works, you’re wasting your time applying for jobs. An ATS is software used by recruiters in all but the smallest organizations today. These systems include automated-screening tools that scan and score your resume, looking for the right job-related key words in the right places. If you have too little—or too much—experience you will be screened out by the computer and never considered for the job.
Preptel.com offers a cool tool called Resumeter that will analyze how your resume will be scored by an ATS for a specific job. Resumeter has a quirky interface, but it’s free, and it shows how to reformat your resume so it will be scored more favorably. This is essential to be considered for an interview.
3. Forget “spraying and praying” as a job search strategy. Submitting a standard resume electronically to a random set of job postings is a mistake lots of young job seekers make. This approach is equally fruitless for older job seekers. Employers are looking for specific skills and experience levels, and there’s too much competition for a generic resume to command attention. Remember, hope is not a job search method. You’ve got a better chance buying a lottery ticket.
Your mantra should be “connect and customize.” Given the volume of applications employers receive, you’re better off applying only to organizations where you can develop a personal relationship with someone who can advocate for you and give you insights into the company’s culture. With dozens or even hundreds of people applying for each job, you must find situations where connecting with an insider gives you an edge and helps you stand out. Even then, the language in your resume must match the skills and capabilities cited in the job description, or you won’t get an interview.
4. Practice resilience and stay positive. Zoey became an event planner after graduating from Central Michigan University. After an arduous search, she observed:
“My ego and expectations were a lot higher when I started looking after college. Now I’d be more humble. You have to have the ability to get knocked over a few times and just get back up, and not be fazed by rejection. It’s an exhausting process.”
Staying positive in the face of continual rejection and disappointment is a huge challenge. You must expect lots of rejections. You might apply for 50 or even 100 jobs over time. Given the uncertainties and the unfavorable odds for all job seekers, one key to staying positive is knowing you are using a solid networking and job- search process—one that helps you position yourself as the strongest possible candidate. That’s the hard lesson learned by Carl, a young economics graduate who spent more than a year looking for a job in finance. He recalls:
“I thought I was a hotshot. I had a good resume. But I was delusional about what employers were looking for. People wanted experience, and all I could give them was a motivated smart recruit. I didn’t even know how to prepare for an interview!”
When he finally landed a good job offer more than a year after he started looking, he says:
“I was speechless. It had been such a long time. I accepted the offer immediately and began thinking about all the people I’d have to thank. I know now the networking will never stop.”
No matter what your age, learning what does and doesn’t work in the job market is the critical first step to increase the odds that eventually you’ll find a job you want. For more insight into what young people have to teach us about this click here.