The Aging Workforce and EAPs: EAPs Can and Must Do a Better Job of Developing and Implementing Age-Specific Services for the Growing Population of Older Workers

By Kreuch, Tony J. | The Journal of Employee Assistance, October 2007 | Go to article overview

The Aging Workforce and EAPs: EAPs Can and Must Do a Better Job of Developing and Implementing Age-Specific Services for the Growing Population of Older Workers


Kreuch, Tony J., The Journal of Employee Assistance


The Employee Assistance Professionals Association's Standards and Professional Guidelines for Employee Assistance Programs states that EAPs are "worksite-based programs designed to assist (1) work organizations in addressing productivity issues, and (2) 'employee clients' in identifying and resolving personal concerns, including, but not limited to, health, marital, family, financial, alcohol, drug, legal, emotional, stress or other personal issues that may affect job performance." The EAP Core Technology, meanwhile, emphasizes the need for EAPs to assist work organizations in a variety of contexts to enhance the overall health, well-being, and performance of the workforce.

Implicit in these definitions is the notion that effective EAPs are capable of adapting to the changing needs of an organization based on shifts in resource allocations, workforce demographics, and organizational goals. One emerging need relates to the "graying" of the workforce and specifically the imperative for work organizations to accommodate this change. Work organizations are being challenged to modify their traditional views of older workers and to reexamine long-held stereotypes and beliefs regarding older workers.

According to the National Council on Aging, the number of workers between the ages of 45 and 54 has grown by more than 50 percent in recent years, while the number of workers between the ages of 25 and 34 has dropped by nearly 10 percent. In addition, workforce participation rates for both men and women aged 65 and older have increased significantly, as have rates for those over age 70.

These trends in the workforce mirror the overall aging of the population and are due to several factors, including the unusually large "baby boom" generation, lengthening life expectancies, and declining fertility rates. As a result of these developments, work organizations are undergoing a renaissance of sorts regarding their view of older workers and are attempting to grapple with issues such as changing negative stereotypes regarding older workers and determining how best to use the older worker as an effective resource.

STEREOTYPES AND ADVANTAGES

Some of the more enduring stereotypes associated with the older worker include a reluctance to embrace technology, higher expenses for health care, a lack of flexibility, low levels of cooperation, and resistance to change (Hassell and Perrewe 1995). Many of these stereotypes stem from the view that "faster is always better," and there is some troth to them--older individuals often show a decline in so-called "fluid" cognitive abilities that influence skills such as rapid processing of information. But the decline is very much task-dependent, since so called "crystallized" abilities associated with expanding the knowledge base have been shown to increase with age (Kanfer and Ackerman 2004).

Countering these stereotypes are various positive perceptions of older workers: for example, that they are more reliable, possess a stronger work ethic, and (depending on the task) produce higher-quality work (Hassell and Perrewe 1995). According to these views, older workers can contribute much to an organization, especially when employed in capacities in which their years of experience, knowledge base, and dependability are invaluable.

A growing body of research reveals that companies that implement managerial strategies and practices that better address the needs of older workers and support their unique contributions can enhance and sustain work motivation among this growing population. However, work organizations must become increasingly cognizant of the need to change attitudes toward the hiring, retraining, motivating, and retaining of mid-life and older workers, who typically have needs that differ from those of younger workers.

SURVEY FINDINGS

Interest in these issues led the staff of the EAP at Sandia National Laboratories to develop a benchmarking survey designed to assess how effectively EAPs in the United States are addressing the needs of the older worker. …

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