Disrupting the Workplace: How Small Changes Can Make a Big Difference
Posted Monday, November 9th, 2015| Comments (2)
Should employers provide eldercare benefits?
Posted Wednesday, September 30th, 2015| Comments Off on Should employers provide eldercare benefits?
Are You Sitting on a Lost Knowledge Time Bomb?
Posted Wednesday, September 9th, 2015| Comment (1)
What does the future hold for “emerging” retirees?
Many organizations are sitting on a ticking time bomb of lost knowledge – or lost capabilities. The common refrain is, “we have lots of veteran employees with deep knowledge of complex systems or products, and no idea how we’re going to sustain these capabilities when our people retire.” When these older workers go, the performance of their organization is going to take a big hit.
Here are four questions to determine whether retirements are likely to threaten your organization’s capabilities:
1. Are your offices or operations located in a rural, suburban or urban setting?
Organizations operating in rural settings are usually at a distinct disadvantage when it comes to recruiting replacements for highly skilled workers and managers. Not only is there a smaller talent pool to recruit from, but it is also harder to entice younger talent to relocate to your part of the world. If you’re running this type of operation, or have part of your organization in a rural setting, you need to plan even further ahead for key transitions because it will take longer to fill those roles.
2. Are you clear about which jobs matter and which don’t?
All jobs are not created equal when it comes to sustaining critical capabilities. An industrial distribution company in the Midwest has a 70-year-old salesman who is their only expert in making and selling hydraulic hose couplings. Top management recently reclassified him as a hydraulics specialist, so he could focus on transferring his unique knowledge to other sales people.
Meanwhile, the company’s purchasing manager retired on short notice, and the CEO saw that as an opportunity to bring a more skilled person into this role. When it comes to transferring and retaining knowledge critical for future performance, you must be clear about which employees pose a risk and which present an opportunity to upgrade your talent.
3. Are you making the right assumptions about how much time you have to deal with the risks of knowledge loss?
Executives consistently underestimate the time they have before facing these problems. Many leaders don’t see a link between their aging workforce with the problem of serious skills gaps.
One of the hardest things to deal with is unplanned retirements of employees you’re counting on to stay longer. As an employer you have a right to do succession and workforce planning. That means you can ask valued employees to keep you informed about their retirement plans, but these conversations must be handled extremely carefully to avoid any suggestions of age discrimination. It is important to get advice from an attorney or HR expert before broaching the subject of retirement because you need to know what to do and what not to say. But if handled appropriately you will greatly reduce the risks of being blind-sided by an unexpected and costly departure.
4. Can you recruit, develop and RETAIN the Millennials needed to replace retiring workers?
One reason that an aging workforce is so problematic for many companies is that leaders have learned how difficult it is to develop and retain a new generation of highly skilled employees. The needs, values and behavior of the generation entering the workforce are a consistent source of frustration for many managers. Different priorities, work styles, and ways of learning clash with what many Baby Boomers expect.
But, as frustrating as these differences are, you have no choice! Aging Boomers are going to retire – or die – eventually. And every organization that expects to survive, much less grow, is going to have to figure out how to prosper with a Millennial workforce. Organizations that find a way to engage and retain productive younger workers fastest are going to be much more successful in negotiating the great wave of Boomer retirements. If you ignore this problem, your organization is much more at risk of losing critical capabilities as more Boomers retire.
What do you think? Do you have essential knowledge at risk in your organization? What questions are you asking to determine where your greatest risks are? I’d welcome your comments.
note: Dr. DeLong is the author of the book “Lost Knowledge: Confronting the Threat of an Aging Workforce”.
Posted Wednesday, August 5th, 2015| Comments (2)
Building a Meaningful Activity Portfolio in Later Life
Jacquelyn B. James, PhD
Co-director, Center on Aging & Work at Boston College
Research Assistant, Center on Aging & Work at Boston College
As a society, we are just starting to grapple with the wide-reaching implications of population aging and its effect on working lives. Many reports and surveys have described the changing expectations about work and retirement for the Baby Boom generation. (See for example, recent reports from SHRM, AARP, and Careerbuilder). There is still work to be done on the part of researchers, employers, and individuals to adapt to changing ideas about work for this generation, the largest in history. That said, the context of work and retirement continues to change rapidly, and future generations may face even stiffer challenges. For the sake of conversation, let’s call these future older adults “emerging” retirees, building on the idea of emerging adulthood.
Older adults of tomorrow — the “emerging” retirees — will face financial pressures unseen by previous generations of retirees: changes in eligibility for Social Security retirement benefits, a slower-growing economy, increasing healthcare costs, and changes in the availability and design of employer-sponsored retirement benefits (see surveys by MetLife and Transamerica). The employer/employee relationship may also be changing — we read about the “uberization” of the economy, the “gig” economy, and precarious jobs. There is even discussion of a “no-growth” economy. With these kinds of pressures and instabilities, the expectation of a secure retirement is becoming increasingly unrealistic for many people.
Older Baby Boomers and the generation that preceded them seem to have done better than did cohorts of retirees that came before them. As such, they appear to be just ahead of being seriously affected by the aforementioned trends, at least in terms of financial resources and planning. A recent New York Times article described how well these cohorts are doing. Younger Baby Boomers, however, are not faring as well, and things are even less promising for the ones just behind them, Generation X.
Furthermore, the Great Recession affected Gen Xers at the point that would typically be considered, or at least hoped, to be the highpoint of their careers. While Gen Xers were hit by the recession when they would have hoped to be doing their best, Millennials were hit right as their careers were starting. Added to this hitch in the path to later life, Gen Xers and Millenials, more so than preceding generations, have had to borrow uncommon sums of money to acquire their education. They have also been more likely to have intermittent employment spells making it difficult for them to save in preparation for retirement. Today, job security is disappearing, higher education is becoming a necessity, and student loan debt strains even good incomes.
Available research on these trends, however, can be contradictory. For instance, Transamerica reports increased optimism about retirement from all cohorts in recent years, while according to the National Institute on Retirement Security 86% of Americans in 2015 believe that we are in a retirement crisis. Clearly these trends reflect very important and complex issues that warrant increased attention and more research.
The one thing everyone seems to agree on is that, moving forward, retirement in the future simply will not look like it does for today’s cohort of retirees, which is complicated enough. Increased longevity means that, even without financial hardships and career setbacks, typical retirement plans will be insufficient for a growing number of people.
We believe that action needs to be to taken now to avoid a crisis for emerging retirees. What do you think? We welcome your ideas about action steps in terms of research, policy, and/or advocacy.
Posted Thursday, July 2nd, 2015| Comment (1)
In diversifying our activities (taking on a part-time job, volunteering, helping to solve a community issue) we increase the likelihood for engaging in positive lifestyle behaviors. Research suggests that it is important not only to engage the body through continued physical activity, movement and strength building, but also to continue to engage the mind by challenging yourself intellectually, and to engage the heart and soul by connecting through relationships, place, and purpose. We also know that the quality of engagement matters just as much or more than the participation itself—so, doing things to enrich your experience is important.
If somewhere in our development we were taught the importance and value of activity portfolio diversification—the act of seeking out multiple opportunities for engagement in community roles and social roles that are interest/passion-driven but that also engage us physically, cognitively and socially—we would find that we can live healthier and happier lives. Indeed, such a rich portfolio can afford us some protection in the face of age-related social role losses. For example, there is evidence that those who have volunteer roles in their lives and then experience a spousal loss or who acquire a volunteer role after spousal loss have fewer depressive symptoms than widows who did not volunteer (Brown et al., 2004; Li, 2007).
What can people do to diversify their activity portfolios?
- Plan for the psychological and social aspects of retirement by thinking ahead about the transition, the development of identity, finding meaningful activities, options for generativity, etc., with the same vigor dedicated to planning financially for retirement (e.g., AARP’s Life Reimagined).
- Develop a strategic plan with a mission, vision and goals for your life. Identify strengths and interests, building on those to develop a strong activity portfolio. Reach out to local organizations that can help you to achieve these goals and leverage existing resources.
- “Job-craft”—advocate for yourself in the workplace, identify and follow your strengths, network.
- Develop your skills across the life course, become a lifelong learner, actively seek-out training and learning opportunities
What can employers do to help their employees plan for the non-financial aspects of retirement?
- Employers can facilitate this type of planning by complimenting finance-based retirement planning seminars and workshops with programming that focuses on the non-financial aspects of retirement (e.g., Discovering What’s Next’s “Beyond the Money” program; Encore Age’s “What’s Next? Workshops”)
- Employers can also provide paid time off for employees to volunteer in the community or to “try out” other positions in the organization. This can allow employees to start to widen their activity portfolios and think more concretely about the types of things that they may want to pursue as an “encore” (e.g., Intel’s Encore Fellows program).
So, what’s in YOUR activity portfolio? Did anyone ever tell you to plan for the non-financial aspects of retirement? How do you currently organize/structure your days? Is it purposeful? Does it support the continued engagement of body, mind, heart and spirit?
How to Create an Organizational Culture for Successful Aging
Posted Wednesday, May 6th, 2015| Comments Off on How to Create an Organizational Culture for Successful Aging
Researchers and practitioners often focus on the influence of individual characteristics, such as cognitive and physical functioning, on employees’ successful aging at work, whereas organizational level factors have been largely neglected. However, recent research in organizational psychology demonstrates that companies’ cultures and climates for successful aging can be powerful predictors of older workers’ motivation, performance, and well-being.
What are organizational cultures and climates for successful aging?
The concept of organizational culture describes the shared values and beliefs of employees working for a company; it is influenced by factors such as the company’s history, line of industry, and leadership. Its sister concept, organizational climate, refers to employees’ shared perceptions of their company’s policies, procedures, and practices. An organization’s culture is thought to influence its climate which, in turn, impacts on employees’ motivation, performance, and well-being. By extension, organizational cultures and climates for successful aging entail how older employees and age management practices are collectively perceived by company members.
Are there differences between companies in their organizational cultures and climates for successful aging?
In a recent study, a colleague and I collected data from 274 employees working for 66 small and medium-sized businesses in Australia. We asked employees to rate how older workers were seen in their company with regard to characteristics such as “efficient,” “flexible,” “motivated,” and “reliable.” Results showed that employees within each company agreed on their assessments of organizational culture for successful aging, whereas there were substantial differences between companies as to how older workers were perceived. Thus, our findings provided empirical evidence that organizational cultures for successful aging exist.
How can companies create organizational cultures and climates for successful aging?
The research evidence to date suggests that companies’ leadership, human resource (HR) practices, and the composition of the workforce impact on the emergence of organizational cultures and climates for successful aging. In our Australian study, we found that organizational culture for successful aging was particularly positive in companies led by older CEOs with positive attitudes toward older workers. By contrast, culture ratings were lower in companies led by young CEOs and CEOs with negative attitudes about older workers. Another study with small and medium-sized companies in Germany showed that age-inclusive HR practices, such as age-neutral recruiting activities and equal opportunities for training and promotion, had a positive effect on age-diversity climate – that is, employees’ shared perceptions of how well age diversity was managed in their organization.
The composition of a company’s workforce also has been shown to influence organizational climate for successful aging. A study from 2011 showed that the more age diversity there was in a company, the higher the age discrimination climate, or employees’ shared perceptions of age discriminatory practices. A follow-up study from the same team of researchers showed that the negative effects of age diversity on age discrimination climate are attenuated when companies have diversity-friendly HR policies in place and when their top managers have low levels of negative age stereotypes.
What are the outcomes of organizational age cultures and climates?
At the individual level, recent findings from my lab suggests that an organizational culture for successful aging has positive effects on older workers’ job satisfaction, organizational commitment, and motivation to continue working after traditional retirement age. At the organizational level, research showed that age discrimination climate has negative effects on employees’ collective commitment and firm performance. Moreover, a positive age-diversity climate was linked to higher company performance and lower collective turnover intentions among employees.
What have we learned?
Organizational culture and climate can have important influences on the extent to which employees can age successfully at work. Positive cultures and climates impact on older employees’ attitudes and well-being, as well as company outcomes such as firm performance and turnover. Practitioners can create organizational cultures and climates for successful aging by training company leaders, implementing age-inclusive HR strategies, and actively managing their increasingly age-diverse workforces.
Too Many And Too Few: What are Reasonable Opportunities for Flexible Work?
Posted Wednesday, April 1st, 2015| Comments Off on Too Many And Too Few: What are Reasonable Opportunities for Flexible Work?
Some suggest that reasons for Europe’s slow economic recovery have much to do workers receiving too many protections with a disregard for costs and unforeseen consequences (evidenced in rising debts and high youth unemployment). In contrast, the U.S. economy is appears to be thriving (as evidenced by stock market surges). Differences between the United States and Europe have much to do with the way work is organized. Observing fissures in the wake of the Great Recession, and the opportunities presented by an economic recovery, opens the prospect for both Americans and Europeans to rethink the reasonableness of existing arrangements, including those that relate to work flexibility.
When it comes to access to flexible work (such are family leave and reduced schedules), what is reasonable? On an objective level, if flexible work arrangements cripple the capacity of organizations or a national economy to operate effectively, they are hard to justify. However, if family-level or community-level benefits result, costs incurred by organizations or taxpayers might be warranted. On a comparative level, what is reasonable can be framed in reference to normative standards, meaning the terms under which similar economies operate.
First consider the objective criterion. While there has been an economic recovery in the US, it has primarily benefited top income groups. It has simultaneously left many behind, as evidenced by flat employment growth rates and wage stagnation. One should not equate the lopsided US recovery as indicating an economy that is working effectively or to its maximum capacity. Given that the economy is generating more wealth, on an objective level it should be able to venture greater support for more generous flexible work options, such as paid family leave and paid sick leave. But as it stands, in the US limits are imposed on who can contribute to the economy, how, and on what terms. These limits hamper the economy.
Now consider the comparative criterion. Every country in the European Union offers rights to flexible work options and job securities that American workers do not have. As a consequence, employers stomach more constraints and citizens pay higher taxes. But in return, employees have options such as the “right to request” in the United Kingdom, in which they receive fair hearings for adjustments to their work arrangements. In the United States, not only can employers ignore employee requests for flexibility, they can also expand and contract work hours at will. Part-time work in Europe is not penalized as severely as it is in the United States, where a shift to fewer work hours can have prohibitively high costs (such as exclusion from employer-sponsored health care programs). Paid family leave policies that exist in virtually all advanced economies enable parents to take from half a year (Iceland for example) to a full year (or more as in Sweden), as compared to 12 weeks of unpaid leave that is available to select workers in the United States. And as one last example, consider that all European Union member nations provide employees with a right to a month or more of paid vacation time, as compared to no statutory right to any paid vacation time in the United States.
Under current conditions, American workers navigate careers in contexts of insecurity and inflexibility, where-as Europeans have difficulty initiating careers, but with far greater protections. None of the economies are working as might be hoped. On the basis of both objective and comparative standards, if other countries have gone too far in supporting options for flexible work, the United States has certainly not gone far enough.
Stephen Sweet is the author of Changing Contours of Work (2013, Sage) and The Work-Family Interface (2014, Sage)
Do Purpose and Passion Add Up to Impact?
Posted Wednesday, March 11th, 2015| Comments (2)
Time after time, in survey after survey, my own cohort of Baby Boomers, as well as people into their 70s and beyond, express a powerful impulse towards finding and serving a purpose beyond themselves. The organization I work for, Encore.org, is built upon our belief that a largely untapped human resource for effecting social change flows from that sense of purpose.
But what’s the connection between wanting to make a difference and actually making one? My own thinking got a jolt last fall when I read Jonathan Rauch’s fascinating cover story in The Atlantic, “The Real Roots of Midlife Crisis,” a savvy romp through a slew of research on happiness in later life.
Rauch begins by reviewing research into the well-known U-curve of lifetime happiness: Happiness bottoms out around age 50 and starts climbing after that. After discovering that this phenomenon cuts across geographies, cultures and other primate species, Rauch digs into its possible biological, psychological and evolutionary roots. Rauch first cites Stanford psychologist (and Encore.org board member), Laura Carstensen, on where people find satisfaction in later life: “As people age and time horizons grow shorter, people invest in what is most important, typically meaningful relationships, and derive increasingly greater satisfaction from these investments.
Rauch next recaps the work of Dilip Jeste and other researchers who are using functional-MRI brain scans to understand if older adults’ brains are wired for wisdom. Among the traits found to correlate with older age: greater compassion, less competitiveness, reduced regret for things one cannot change, greater social reasoning, improved long-term decision making and greater comfort with uncertainty and ambiguity.
And here is where the trail leads us: The purposeful desire to achieve social impact (throughout the life course) and the accretion of wisdom and the experience of greater happiness with the passage of time are accepted truths. Of course, for many people, social impact is channeled through their immediate social circle, for instance, as grandparents. This raises a crucial question: Do these wisdom traits, when joined with a passion for leaving the world a better place, translate into a unique path to social impact?
My answer: Yes. In my work over the last decade I’ve regularly witnessed the truth of this proposition. I’ve been privileged to read the stories of, and often meet, nearly 500 women and men recognized by The Purpose Prize, our program recognizing social innovators over the age of 60. Their deep empathy, lack of ego and willingness to risk failure for causes they deeply believe in is the existential ‘glue’ that unifies Purpose Prize winners and fellows, no matter where they live or what they do. It’s easy to see how those characteristics might translate into impact.
I’ve observed similar arcs for the more than 500 individuals that Encore.org has placed in Encore Fellowships in nonprofit organizations since 2009. These fellowships are meant to bridge the transition from a private sector career to work that’s focused on social purpose and impact. The evidence to date is anecdotal but enthusiastic: Numerous testimonials from nonprofit leaders acclaim the efficacy of these one-year encore fellowships in creating transformational change.
This year, we hope to balance the anecdotes with analysis. Three studies are under way here that will shine a light on the purpose-impact connection. With Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, the psychologist best known for the theory of flow, Claremont Graduate University professor Jeanne Nakamura is leading a team at the Quality of Life Research Center that is looking at the characteristics and pathways of social innovators who have been Purpose Prize winners and fellows. And in two related projects, one in partnership with organizations in our network that help people find encore roles and the other with Boston College, Encore.org is studying two broad questions: What types of impact are created by individuals serving in paid and pro-bono/volunteer encore roles? Second, is there a correlation between impact and personal characteristics most often associated with maturity, that were apparent in the individuals carrying out these encore roles?
Stay tuned for the results. And if you know of any research or have thoughts on the through-line between life experience, purpose and social impact, I’d love to hear from you.
Does Age Discrimination in Employment Exist?
Posted Tuesday, February 10th, 2015| Comments (2)
If you ask many older workers if age discrimination exists, you will get a resounding yes. Surveys show that at least some older workers think they’re being discriminated against . However, self-reports are not the best measure of discrimination. While some instances of discrimination are obvious, others are more subtle, and sometimes there’s a non-discriminatory reason behind perceived differential treatment.
If successful lawsuits are any indication, there’s at least some age discrimination. In 2013, the EEOC reported 21,396 charges of discrimination under ADEA. Of that number, 7,232 were resolved by the EEOC, 7 suits were filed, and 16 suits were resolved in court. However, the number of charges filed in 2013 represents only 0.025 % of labor force participants over the age of 40 and 0.043% of labor force participants over the age of 50. Of course, this number could also be underestimating the problem if people don’t realize they are being discriminated against or they want to avoid a costly lawsuit.
It is more difficult to study age discrimination than it is to study gender discrimination or race discrimination. With race and gender, we can set up experimental situations in which job applicants are identical except for their race or gender, but we cannot do that with age because as you get older, you should also have more experience. We may prefer a younger worker with just one year of work experience to an older worker with the same experience not because of age, but because that lack of experience with the older worker might suggest something about the older worker being unwilling or unable to keep a job. Similarly, older workers who have been in the labor market really do have more experience and employers may genuinely be worried about “over-qualification” instead of just using that term as code for “being older.”
We know that older people take longer to get new jobs while unemployed and are less likely to get new jobs than younger people. This difference by age is true even in cases where we might think the reasons for previous job separation have nothing to do with the quality of the worker, such as mass layoffs. But maybe older job seekers are just picky and expect higher salaries, or are less willing to move, or maybe they’re more likely to be in dying occupations or dying industries.
Experiments using hypothetical resumes can separate out differential treatment by employers from different preferences by potential employees. Laboratory experiments with simulated resumes suggest that older job applicants are less preferred, although the type of job matters in these experiments. For example, Elissa Perry has several papers with coauthors demonstrating that young applicants are preferred for “young-type” jobs. Similarly, while Phillip Young and coauthors found that younger PE teachers were preferred to older PE teachers, they found no difference in treatment by age for teachers in subjects that did not require physical activity. Recent work by Barbara Fritzche and Justin Marcus notes that older “job changers” are especially disadvantaged. There may be other interesting differences; some new work I am doing suggests that age discrimination in hiring in an entry-level position may have different patterns for blacks compared to whites.
In addition to laboratory experiments, researchers have done field experiments called “audit studies” that send simulated resumes to real employers and measure their response rates by age. A study in the 1990s by Marc Bendick Jr. sent applications to Fortune 500 companies and found that 32 year olds were preferred to 57 year olds. This study controlled for experience by giving previous experience as a teacher or in the armed forces, which may be introducing different biases other than age. In a more recent labor market experiment, I sent resumes to entry-level job openings in Boston and St. Petersburg, and found that younger women applicants are 40% more likely to be called back for an interview than older women applicants. This experiment, however, is only really externally valid for women applying to entry-level jobs and doesn’t say much about other labor markets or other job seekers. Current work by David Neumark is looking at isolating the effect of experience on differential treatment by age for a wider range of jobs and positions.
Bottom Line: Yes, age discrimination exists in hiring, but we don’t know its full extent. We only have small pieces of the picture and there’s a lot more work that needs to be done to see the full picture.
New SHRM Survey Finds That Many Organizations Are Unprepared for the Impact of Demographic Changes in the Workforce
Posted Wednesday, January 14th, 2015| Comments (3)
Given the recent discussions about skills shortages and recruiting difficulties in the popular business media and among many business leaders, you might be surprised to know that over half of businesses and organizations are either not aware of a demographic shift towards an aging workforce or are not actively taking steps to prepare for the impact of these changes. This finding comes from a recent SHRM Research survey of HR professionals, which also found that currently few HR professionals believe the potential loss of talent due to retirement of workers is considered crisis or even problem in their industry.
The survey is part of a three-year initiative undertaken by The Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) and the SHRM Foundation, and supported by a grant from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation. The goals of this project are to highlight the value of older workers and identify the best practices for employing an aging workforce. So far, the survey has uncovered an apparent lack of concern about losing a key source of organizational talent.
SHRM’s analysis of the steps that organizations are currently taking to prepare for the future can be seen in the chart below. About one-third of respondents (36%) said their organization was preparing for the projected increase in the proportion of older workers in the labor force by “beginning to examine internal policies and management practices to address this change”. One-fifth (19%) of respondents indicated their organization was just becoming aware of this potential change in the ratio of older workers, and another 10% are unaware of potential change. In contrast, about 13% have proposed or implemented policies or management practices, and one-fifth (20%) indicated their organization has examined their workforce and determined that no changes in their policies and practices are necessary,
What could explain the disconnect between changing workforce demographics and HR activities? It may be that there is a lack of clarity about when and how these changes will take effect within a given industry and organizations. Only about half of HR professionals said their organization tracks the percentage of employees eligible to retire in the next 1-2 years and even fewer forecast workforce demographics beyond that time frame. Around 20% or fewer organizations have done workforce assessments around the loss of workers aged 55+, identifying future workforce needs and potential skills gaps in the six years and beyond timeframe.
Overall, the findings suggest that many organizations may not be fully aware of the various ways these demographic shifts will influence their organizations. Additional SHRM research in the series looks at how those organizations that are responding to these demographic shifts are adjusting their recruiting and retention strategies to specifically target older workers and about the skills and experience HR professionals most value in older workers.
For more information about the SHRM/SHRM Foundation Older Workers initiative go to www.shrm.org/surveys and www.shrmfoundation.org.
How Organizations Are Preparing for the Projected Increase in the Proportion of Older Workers in the Labor Force 1
1 “According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, workers 55 years of age and over are projected to make up approximately 26% of the labor force by the year 2022, compared to 21% in 2012 and 14% in 2002. As the proportion of older workers increases, the potential impact resulting from the loss of their knowledge and experience may become more substantial. Which of the following best describes your organization’s preparation for this change?”