(From The Huffington Post) -- American workers are getting older.
The reasons for this aging process are both positive (people are living longer, are in good health later in life, enjoy their jobs and want to keep working) and not so positive (many people don't feel financially secure enough to stop working at traditional retirement age).
Two things are clear, though: First, the only segment of the workforce that has grown steadily since the late 1980s involves those 55 years and older; and, second, that means that there are now more older Americans in the workforce than ever before. This trend is only going to increase over the coming years. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, by 2020, one out of every four working Americans will be 55 and older.
We also know that of those who do retire, 40 percent ultimately return to work in some form. While there is a systematic lack of data out there about what older workers want, we do know that many people who work past traditional retirement age say they want something different than a conventional, full-time job.
This should be cause for neither lament nor celebration. Older workers bring a diverse array of skills and knowledge to the workplace, and many of them are very happy to continue working later into life. For employers, they provide a steady labor base with honed skills and a depth of experience. What we do need, however, is a workplace structure that reflects the new demographics of the American workplace.
Over the past few decades, we have seen a marked increase in the number of employers embracing flexible work arrangements and other forms of flexibility in terms of when, where and how work gets done. These reforms came largely in response to women entering the workforce and the resulting increase in dual-earner, as well as single-parent, single-earner households. Research shows that these working parents typically experience a time famine, requiring new scheduling arrangements that allow employees more control over when and where they work. Increasingly, companies have realized that allowing such flexibility not only helps working parents, but also makes good business sense in terms of increased productivity, reduced turnover and other benefits.
Nevertheless, working parents are no longer the fastest growing segment of the workforce; older workers are. Now, we need a new set of reforms to address the millions of older Americans in the workplace, and to ensure that the jobs we have work for them. Just as in the case of working parents, there are business benefits for employers who engage older workers by providing flexibility. Companies need to retain the human capital and skill sets of experienced employees, and find ways to transfer their wisdom to younger generations. In order to do this, it will be in businesses' best interests to create a culture in which people can work longer and work successfully later into life.
One thing this will require is a change in employer attitudes toward older workers. According to the Boston College Center on Aging and Work, 40 percent of employers worry that the aging of the workforce will have negative or very negative impacts on their businesses. Many employers and employees worry about conflict between older and younger workers, who are often seen as in competition for the same jobs. In reality, there's no reason why we can't have jobs that work for both older employees and their younger counterparts. It's not about choosing between older workers and younger workers; it's about creating a workplace environment that works for everyone.