In developed economies, one of the major challenges in business is that of an ageing workforce. With its own costs and benefits, it is a fact of life that needs to be managed with care and respect by any HR team.
The ageing working population is due to both specialization among many businesses and a lack of suitable replacements due to changes in education. There is also a loss of skills that many educators see as no longer relevant. Whatever the issue, dealing with an ageing workforce is a key HR challenge.
Legislation ensures that all ages of workers are treated fairly, but any business that looks to be welcoming, inclusive and successful needs to ensure that it does the best for its older workforce, and ensure that it captures all the information and knowledge they possess to help future workers, and the company, thrive.
What is an ageing workforce?
The struggle for some business is not that their workers are getting on a bit, but that there are often no suitable replacements to fill these roles as they become available again. Many engineering, technical and specialist firms have decades of experience wrapped up in the hands of a few skilled people.
This may lead them to retain staff for longer, and limit their ability to hire younger people, especially when it comes to staff operating or using legacy equipment or technology. How many new COBOL programmers or redundant production facility operators do universities produce these days?
For the business, anyone over 40 might be considered a veteran, and these staff may find it harder to find new roles, leaving them working for your business by default. Others, notably the over 50s, may simply lack the inclination to move on, and are working for their pension. But each of these issues create opportunities for the business and allow workers to benefit.
The benefits of an ageing workforce
Reliability, focus, knowledge and business awareness are all positive traits among many experienced workers. Each worker adds extensive value to the business, with an innate understanding of the role, tasks and the company landscape.
Older workers are also well trained, and usually more than happy to teach their skills to others. This can help build the skill base across the business. While some are unwilling to adapt, others are only too happy to learn new skills and keep with the times in regard to their roles or take on new responsibilities to keep them interested.
In past generations, older workers left and new ones took over, but in the flexible working climate of today, older workers can take on part-time roles and help train the incoming workers, allowing for a more stable, knowledgeable and focused transition between staff. This allows HR and the business leadership to plan replacements in and around the retirement of older workers, while keeping knowledge and skills on hand.
Ageing workforce problems
The key challenge when dealing with an older workforce is the risk of an unwillingness to adapt. That may be to new technologies, patterns of working or other areas where change is inevitable. However, as older workers realize the need to change, this is becoming less of an issue, bar that odd outlier case that most companies will have.
Health and wellbeing
More important is maintaining the health of the workforce, something a positive approach to health insurance, wellness programs and stress reduction can help to reinforce. Progressive companies offer many benefits from in-house massages to reduced gym membership with a focus on flexibility and mobility over strength and the usual fitness attitudes.
Older companies also have the benefit of a more social attitude over younger workers who are tied into their online cohort. Being able to mix the two can help bring younger workers into the fold more easily and help them feel part of the company.
Ageing workforce solutions
Keeping these skills is a key part of a businesses’ long-term strategy, and since it can’t keep the people on forever, even with longer retirement dates, capturing that information is an essential task.
Passing on knowledge
Using knowledge bases to help archive and pass on that information to others can help build a key asset for the company. Through chats, written notes, online knowledge bases and other forms, it is essential for HR to help the company build a store of information for the next generation of workers to access. This will help them understand how to perform the role, along with the many quirks that may appear.
It is also important to keep staff engaged by either expanding their role or promoting them to roles that give them greater supervisory powers, where suitable. This engagement can help put a spring in the step of any worker, and help the business improve its operations.
When it comes to the health of the workforce, HR and the leadership should be aware that the addition of health benefits is one that impacts and benefits the whole company. Insurance and health perks are costly, but in the longer term will boost attendance, fitness to work and the general health of the workforce. They also make it easier to hire people, and give the business a positive reputation.
Keep in touch
Finally, as the workforce gets older, the company needs to show restraint in reminding people that they are getting on. Three-monthly or quarterly sessions are more than enough to address any issues an older worker may have.