Academic journal article Generations

Between a Twentieth- and a Twenty-First-Century Workforce: Employers at the Tipping Point

Academic journal article Generations

Between a Twentieth- and a Twenty-First-Century Workforce: Employers at the Tipping Point

Article excerpt

The name given to that one dramatic moment in an epidemic when everything can change all at once is the Tipping Point.

-Gladwell, 2002

The aging of the population is at last becoming visible to employers. The market orientation of many employers is shifting as they focus some of their business on older clients and customers. Employers are also beginning to realize that the twenty-first century-workforce will inevitably be different from the workforce of the twentieth century. For example, when employers look at their own employees, they see diat a substantial proportion of their workforces may retire in the next five to ten years. As successive waves of baby boomers reach the retirement ages of 62-65, employers will more fully appreciate that our society has reached a tipping point with regard to the composition of the workforce. Forward-looking employers realize that they could encounter a human-capital crisis if they are not prepared.

This article examines the perspectives of those employers from the public, nonprofit, and forprofit sectors who can be considered "early adaptors" to die aging of the workforce and the actions diey have taken to prepare. The information was gathered as part of the Benchmark Study conducted by Boston College'. Informarión gathered from this group provides a look at emerging best practices.


Peter Drucker, one of the management "thought leaders" of our time, has observed die following: "Modem organization must be capable of change. Indeed it must be capable of initiative change, that is innovation. . . . Lack of 'creativity1 is, therefore, not the problem of organization. Rather it is organizational inertia which always pushes for continuing what we are already doing" (1992, p. 193).

So, why are some employers getting ready to take advantage of opportunities associated widi the aging of the workforce while others appear to be dragging their feet?

Motivation for change may come from pressures that originate either from the inside or the outside of the organization (see Goodstein, 1994). For example, staffing shortages or anticipated problems with knowledge transfer from older to younger workers might propel some employers to take steps to get ready for the aging workforce. Other employers might track trends at their workplaces, such as changing demographics of their workforces, so that they can get early signals about changes on the horizon. More than half of the early-adapter respondents to the Benchmark Study reported that at die time of die study, their organizations had experienced an increase over die past year in die percentage of workers between die ages of 55 and 65 years.

There are many possible reasons that some employers have not yet started to plan for the aging of the workforce. For example, die aging of the workforce may not in fact be an urgent issue for some organizations (see Oxford Institute of Ageing, 2006, pp. 11, 12). Odier organizations may face the traditional barriers to organizational change, including the not uncommon discomfort widi new ways of thinking and new approaches to getting work done, specific workplace cultures that resist change, a lack of understanding of die business opportunities that could be associated with the aging of the workforce, and differences of opinion about the change strategies that can best leverage those opportunities (Schiemann, 1996).

In an effort to gain a better understanding of specific situations that might heighten employers' awareness of die aging of the workforce, we asked the Benchmark organizations about the extent to which diey were experiencing particular human-resource challenges diat might affect dieir receptivity to the full engagement of older workers.

Figure 1 provides information about the challenges experienced to a "moderate/great extent" by one-third or more of the respondents.

Recruitment was among the top five human resource challenges noted by the Benchmark organizations, as was unwanted turnover. …

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