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) rule

Manager, Workplace Trends and Forecasting,
Society for Human Resource Management
Research Fellow,
Center on Aging & Work at Boston College

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 and

Figure 1:
How Organizations Are Preparing for the Projected Increase in the Proportion of Older Workers in the Labor Force

blog image How Organizations Are Preparing for the Projected Increase in the Proportion of Older Workers in the Labor Force
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?”

3 responses to “New SHRM Survey Finds That Many Organizations Are Unprepared for the Impact of Demographic Changes in the Workforce”

  1. Philip Taylor says:

    An interesting study. We undertook a survey of Australian industry attitudes and practices towards older workers recently and found that there was engagement around the issue from a significant number of employers. This seemed to be driven by concerns about labour shortages and about the impact of demographic change. The background to the study was sustained economic growth which persisted in Australia, despite the GFC.

  2. These findings are very interesting, but not surprising. In Norway, where the growth in the 50 – 70 year group will be twice the size of the increase in 20 – 40 segment the coming 20 years, the Centre of Senior Policy (government institution under the Ministry of Labor) has visited 73 of the larger companies. Very few of these have discussed demography and the rapid changes or consequences for the business in their management teams. None of the HR leaders have this topic on their top ten list! Age seems to be a very unpleasant theme, and the tendency to postpone all debate about facts related to it is clearly seen. The current dramatic fall in oilprices leads to much action around reduction of staff. Severance packages which all employees can apply for is offered, and management more often decides to give them to the 55 + group. Much the same situation in the other Scandinavian countries, is my impression.

  3. Ryan McShane says:

    There is a dire need whether recognized or not. Unfortunately, burying our heads does not make it go away. If it is not on fire, management doesn’t seem to pay much attention. Additionally, the fore- thought and planning seem absent within the culture of most corporate environments working quarter to quarter.
    However, there will likely be a mad scramble for talent once the crunch hits and the economy opens up to more hiring.
    Age discrimination is also prevalent.