The overall U.S. population is living longer and, in turn, working longer. About one-fifth of Americans aged 65 and older (19%) are currently employed – and many are actively working for up to 20 years beyond the traditional retirement age.
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) prohibits discrimination against individuals with disabilities. The ADA recognizes that working adults may experience impairments or limitations associated with the aging process. Unfortunately, older workers can face numerous challenges with discrimination. In 2019, Google agreed to pay $11 million to more than 200 job applicants aged 40 and over. They alleged persistent age discrimination in the hiring process, passing over older workers again and again.
In this blog, we’ll dive into how aging may affect employees and the many benefits of hiring older employees. We’ll also look at some easy and inexpensive accommodations that can help an organization recruit and retain this valuable workforce.
How can aging affect employees?
The term “aging” is broad, but this blog refers to workers 55 years and older. As we age, we start to experience some limitations, such as a loss of balance or strength and impaired hearing or sight. There also may be the need for more doctor appointments, medical treatments, or other ongoing needs.
However, as we talk about this portion of the workforce as a group, organizations must recognize that changes due to aging can vary widely among individuals. Many older employees maintain high levels of physical and cognitive functioning throughout their careers.
What are the benefits of recruiting and retaining older workers?
There is increasing value in hiring and retaining older employees. Many organizations, like the Center for Workforce Inclusion and the National Council on Aging, highlight these benefits by championing the rights and well-being of older adults through impactful advocacy.
“We seek to speak the truth of workforce injustice… Our workforce is aging. According to the U.S. Special Committee on Aging, older Americans will become the largest segment of the U.S. workforce by 2028.”
– Center for Workforce Inclusion President & CEO Gary A. Officer at the Equity Summit 2023
Employers gain significant advantages by understanding the value of unlocking the potential inherent in older workers.
- Wisdom in the workforce. Tenured professionals have greater institutional knowledge and applicable experience that can be used in many ways. This knowledge is not easily replaced.
- Mentoring. Senior employees can play a crucial role in nurturing the talents of the younger generation, creating a workplace where knowledge flows freely and everyone levels up.
- Diverse workforce. Enhancing a positive work culture requires bringing different perspectives to the table, and age diversity is a vital component of a diverse workplace. A team with members spanning various age groups brings a richness of ideas and approaches, fostering innovation and creativity.
- Lower turnover rates. Older individuals are more likely to stay on board with an organization. Older workers aged 55-64 have a higher employee tenure rate, staying with an employer for a median of almost 10 years, more than three times that of workers ages 25-34 (2.8 years).
What types of accommodations can help aging workers?
Many limitations caused by aging can be easily and inexpensively accommodated. For example, modern orthotics, appropriate flooring and seating, optimal lighting, and accessible parking spaces can make all the difference.
The emphasis in recent years on flexible work schedules and working from home has also been shown to benefit senior employees. Not having to commute to an office daily can make it easier for employees to keep working longer.
It’s no shock that everyone ages differently, but as individuals age, certain medical limitations become increasingly common. Nearly everyone experiences some degree of presbyopia after reaching the age of 40, meaning there is a big need for reading glasses and larger print.
To meet the needs of employees – and be compliant under the law – the accommodations process must be interactive. It should promote engagement and understanding between the employer and employee to determine the right solution in each situation. Accommodations management technology can help make sure the interactive process is completed the right way, every time.
If interested, check out this extensive list of possible accommodations for aging: Accommodations for Aging Employees.
What are some best practices for managing accommodations for an aging workforce?
Many older workers are fearful of asking for accommodations related to aging out of concern of being forced out of a job or encouraged to retire before they’re ready. Employers should ensure their accommodation request process is welcoming and non-judgmental. Here are some other suggestions:
- Proactively communicate throughout the process. Regularly let employees know how to request an accommodation if they need one and establish a standardized process to maintain uniformity and mitigate risk. Also, make sure managers understand that the interactive process has started each time a request is made, as age-related requests may not seem like accommodations requests at first.
- Offer easy ways for employees to request accommodations. Using leave management software that provides a self-service online portal gives employees a personalized, user-friendly platform they can access on any device at any time to request an accommodation and track the status of their request.
- Personalize the experience. Personalized benefits and accommodations are pivotal in improving job satisfaction and creating a more productive workforce. Using technology to assist with age-related accommodations can help an HR team spend less time on paperwork and more time on building rapport with employees. Technology can also ensure accommodations are provided equitably and prevent unintentional discrimination.
Older workers offer organizations a wealth of expertise, institutional knowledge, and reliability, and providing the right accommodations can make it possible to attract and retain these valuable employees.
The good news is the benefits of providing accommodations far outweigh the costs – and the process doesn’t need to be complicated. Technology can help manage the process and create a personalized experience.
Lastly, always remember to follow ADA best practices to make sure your accommodations processes are compliant.