In the United States, as well as other parts of the world, the age of our workforce is changing dramatically. Due to changing economic factors, many at retirement age are continuing to work. For this reason, and because of a steady decline in birth rates, the age of the average worker is increasing. This aging workforce is filling shortages in the labor market that were traditionally filled by younger workers. Employers now have a need to use adaptive measures that can help accommodate this aging workforce.
Legal Action Affects Employment
In 1967 Congress passed the Age Discrimination in Employment Act to address findings that affected older workers. Their declarations were: "(1) in the face of rising productivity and affluence, older workers find themselves disadvantaged in their efforts to retain employment, and especially to regain employment when displaced from jobs; (2) the setting of arbitrary age limits regardless of potential for job performance has become a common practice, and certain otherwise desirable practices may work to the disadvantage of older persons; 3) the incidence of unemployment, especially longterm unemployment with resultant deterioration of skill, morale, and employer acceptability is, relative to the younger ages, high among older workers; their numbers are great and growing; and their employment problems grave; (4) the existence in industries affecting commerce, of arbitrary discrimination in employment because of age, burdens commerce and the free flow of goods in commerce.
It is therefore the purpose of this chapter to promote employment of older persons based on their ability rather than age; to prohibit arbitrary age discrimination in employment; to help employers and workers find ways of meeting problems arising from the impact of age on employment" (The Age Discrimination In Employment Act of 1967, viewed on 10/23/2003, http://.eeoc.gov/laws/adea/html)
It was almost as if Congress had a crystal ball and forsaw what was going to be supported in the year 2002 by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. That finding was, "it is projected that profound changes in the characteristics of the U.S. population will occur in the coming decade because the population is growing older and more diverse. As the baby boom-generation ages, that share of the labor force aged 55 or older, who made up 13 percent of the labor force in 2000, is projected to increase to 20 percent by 2020. At the same time, the growth of the labor force is expected to slow considerably by 2050 only increasing at a rate of 0.6 percent annually between 2000 and 2050" (Toossi, Mitra, Office of Occupational Statistics and Employment Projections (Bureau of Labor Statistics). (2002, May). "A Century of Change: the U.S. Labor force 1950 – 2050." Retrieved July 17, 2003 from the BLS Website: http://www.bls.gov).
What all this means is that the face of American businesses will be changing in the coming years not just because of technology but because of reality. A change in economic and health conditions make it necessary as well as feasible for the worker to work well into what was originally described as retirement age. In fact," research shows that 80 percent of Baby Boomers plan to work at least part-time during their retirement years"( Patel, David. Society for Human Resource Management, Workplace Forecast: A Strategic Outlook 2002-2003, Society for Human Resource Management (July 2002)).
Given these changes American businesses will be hard pressed to keep up with the needs of the aging worker either because of necessity or because of need. There are resources out there to help. One in particular is the EEOC. Included in the legislation Congress passed in 1967, is the responsibility of the federal government to help the public and private sector of our economy to meet the changing economic needs of our nation.
Elimination of Age Discrimination/Proactive Measures in the Workplace The average age of the American workforce is ever-increasing and companies must fund programs which change the face of the current working environment. Using the aerospace industry as a representation workforce, an article posted by Dave Montgomery, in the Dallas/Fort Worth Star-Telegram website gives shocking numbers. He writes, "The average age of today's aerospace engineer is 54; the average blue-collar worker is 51." If these numbers can be considered feasible across the workforce spectrum, companies must scramble to institute new policy and shift paradigms about the elderly workforce. (Montgomery, "Graying Workers Concern Aerospace" October, 2003)
An article written by ergonomist Duncan Abbott for the Department of Work and Pensions in the United Kingdom, (UK), shows the importance to accurately gauge workplaces for persons who have disabling conditions. In his article written for the Arthritis Research Campaign, a UK charity research foundation, Abbott explains, "A workplace assessment, if carried out by a specialist with a background in how the body functions, can help the worker reduce the stress and strain to the various body parts…." This is particularly important to ageing workforce, who make up the highest percentage of arthritis sufferers. (Abbott "Working in Comfort" Oct 2003)
An AARP article suggests office exercises. "Stiff neck, back and wrist pain, poor circulation – these are just some of the health hazards that can come with having an office job. …There are simple exercises you can do…that don't take much time and also help you stay fit." Promoting an exercise regime within office environments keep workers active, relieve stress, re-energizes and jumpstarts the brain. Older workers would most benefit from a program such as this, as they are most prone to repetitive motion injuries. Keeping employees active and a providing a full regiment of exercise is a win-win for both companies and workers. (AARP Website "Office Exercise" – October 2003)
Along the lines of adapting workplaces to be more worker friendly, the Center for Occupational Health Improvement (COHI) provides a service to companies interested in giving workers the best possible working environment. "(The COHI) provides services that help organizations improve the health of employees while controlling health-related costs." Assisting a company with creating a working environment that is more elderly worker friendly will enable the company to adapt faster, which will benefit the worker sooner. (COHI, Main Website Accessed October 2003)
Prevention must be included in company policy for worker injury and disability. Insuremagic.com has an article about safe working environments from the aspect of office hazards. More elderly workers have mobility challenges than do the younger ones, and with simple prevention of common office hazards, these workers will have a safer environment. "Common office hazards like trailing telephone leads, loose carpets and mats, cluttered desk – all these are seemingly very common but can actually cause a lot of damage." Proper lifting and sitting procedures are discussed from a preventative point of view. (Insuremagic.com "Ensure a Safe Working Environment" Accessed October 2003)
Creating an exercise facility is a great way to give older workers a place to rid themselves of stress. Most exercise facilities are geared around younger workers, but with few adjustments, a company is able to give elderly workers accessibility to existing facilities allowing them a friendlier place to exercise. An article written for the Alberta Center for Active Living gives information about establishing a physical fitness facility in the workplace, which can be easily adapted to the elderly worker. It stresses activity and how beneficial physical fitness programs are for employees. (Alberta Center For Active Living Website, "Hot Topics in Physical Activity" Accessed October 2003)
For companies that have vision to the future, but not the resources to employ their own assistance branch, a company (Employee Assistance Professionals Association) is available to provide employee assistance to the older worker. This resource can be used to gain information on advancement, job banks, certifications, and find a health care provider. (Employee Assistance Professionals Association Main Website, Accessed October 2003)