Employers See Aging Issues Ahead

April 10, 2003 (PLANSPONSOR.com) - Seven out of 10 companies view an aging workforce as either a "very important" or "fairly important" business issue in their companies.

Of those, 94% point to a looming shortage of talent and needed skills as one of the main reasons. Additionally, more than a third cite rising health insurance costs, which are highest for older workers, according to a Conference Board online survey of 150 senior human resource executives.

Overall, 68 of the 150 respondents have workforces with 20% or more employees who are 50 years of age and above. Additionally, more than two-fifths of survey participants have 30% or more employees who are 50 years of age and above; over three-quarters of this group (77%) are manufacturing firms.

Older Impact

The full impact of older workers leaving the workforce and entering into retirement may not even be fully realized yet. More than six out of 10 (61%) of the respondents said their companies do not have an age profile of their workforce. Combine that with the 63% reporting the lack of an inventory of available skills, and 49% having not assessed their company’s training and development needs, and corporations may soon find themselves starring down the barrel of sudden shortages in key jobs.

“What would seem essential in orchestrating corporate responses to economic ups and downs is systemic HR planning,” said Howard Muson, author of the report, Valuing Experience: How to Retain and Motivate Mature Workers. “It’s something that few large companies approach resourcefully and energetically.”

Older, experienced employees play an essential role in transferring knowledge and skills to younger people and the older workers want to remain on the job. Yet most companies are not taking advantage of this opportunity, as only 12% utilize job rotation programs and even less (5%) rehire retirees on a part-time or temporary basis to act as mentors, facilitating knowledge transfer between older and younger workers.


One reason many employees want to work beyond retirement age in order is to keep their healthcare insurance. However, employers, faced with alarming cost increases, are cutting back on coverage or asking employees to pay a larger share.

Another barrier seen by many companies is the “perception gap.” On the one hand, managers sometimes regard older employee as lacking in enthusiasm and energy, resistant to new ideas and supervision, more prone to illness, and more frequently absent. Some employees, on the other hand, perceive that as they get older, they will be victims of “ageism” and will have fewer opportunities to advance and take on new challenges.