Aging Workforce: Employer Strategies for Future Prosperity


With the looming shift in demographics happening within Ontario workplaces, employers need to start critically assessing their HR needs in order to better prepare themselves for an aging workforce.

FACTS:

  • Birth and fertility rates in Canada continues to decline 

  • The number of seniors is expected to surpass the number of children by 2015 (Statistics Canada)

  • By 2031, the seniors population in York Region is projected to double to 20.7% 

  • For the 102,000 businesses in York Region, the government commissioned the Aging Workforce Study (2011) and forecasted a potential labour shortage of 3% or 23,500 jobs by 2031
On the other side of the token, 60% of Canadian worker now expect to work beyond retirement age according to recent results from the 2015 Sun Life Canadian Unretirement Index.  The sad part about this finding is that most workers plan to work beyond age 65, not because they want to, but primarily out of fear that they won’t have enough money (savings plus government pensions) to sustain a basic living.  Other research also supports baby boomers working longer and delaying retirement among those in professional careers who are highly educated where the nature of their work is less physical.

Given these findings, both the workforce trend and worker's retirement sentiments appear to be aligned.  This is good news as we may not see the mass exodus of baby boomers retiring at the same time as experts had initially warned.

However, the fact remains, a significant labour shortage still exists.   Therefore, it is vital that employers plan for this and implement proactive strategies to encourage and accommodate older workers to stay in the workforce longer.

According to the Aging Workforce Study conducted by the Regional Municipality of York (2011), it outlined several actions businesses can undertake to attract, engage and retain older workers.

Below are some practical strategies employers can adopt to help mitigate the impending labour shortage and potential loss of knowledge:

Open Communication
Simply talking to employees about their plans long before they reach retirement age can take the guesswork out of workforce planning.  This is a critical exercise that can prove mutually beneficial to both employers and employees in identifying specific needs upfront and devising a plan to address.

Phased Retirement
The majority of workers view retirement as a gradual process thus preferring a phased retirement approach while continuing to provide value to their employers in some capacity.  Some of the following approaches can accommodate these workers:

  • Explore various retirement options in advance and provide resources to help them make informed decisions
  • Health benefits are very important to mature workers so improvements in this area that addresses their needs will be a key attraction 
  • Provide financial planning sessions to prepare for full retirement or reduced working hours
  • Discuss and create options for modified work, flexible schedules and training/mentoring roles
  • Reduce work hours, allowing shorter work weeks and part-time hours and decreased responsibilities
  • Create a pool of retirees the company can draw upon for mentor/coaching opportunities and short-term projects
  • Transfer of knowledge from older to younger workers through mentorship programs
Flexible Work Options
Flexible work options are key factors to increasing employee retention and engagement while reducing absence and turnover costs for employers.   Some examples include:

  • Allow part-time, flex time, job sharing and compressed work week hours
  • Offer contract work, temporary, seasonal work
  • Provide telecommuting options and ability to transfer to less demanding roles
  • Increase availability of vacation and sick time through a paid time-off bank to let older workers deal with medical and eldercare issues privately
Ergonomics & Job Re-design
  • allow older workers to select preferred shifts or to be excluded from working shifts
  • reduce physical demands such as lifting and standing
  • modify the workstation to ensure it is ergonomic and accomodate the physical needs of older workers
  • allow older workers to decide when they need a break
  • introduce assistive technologies such as larger fonts, and larger screens
Family Care Leave & Accessibility Policies
The recent legislation on the Accessibility of Ontarian Disability Act (AODA) and the government's push for compliance highlights the need for employer's attention from two fronts - at the customer level and within the workplace.  Compliance with the AODA is the first step businesses can take towards positive efforts to accomodating the older population.  

Integrate new statutory leaves (i.e Family caregiver leave) with existing company leave of absence policies and explore top-up benefits to help workers deal with eldercare responsibilities.   According to a recent survey by the Human Resource Professional Association (HRPA) whereby 692 organizations were polled on this subject , many agreed there were clear business benefits to providing these compassionate care leave policies including:

  •  Increase in employee engagement (61%)
  • Increase in retention (56%)
  • Having a policy make it easier for employees to return to work and reintegrate in the work team (49%)
“These numbers speak to the fact that not only do compassionate care policies help employees through very difficult times, they also make good business sense”– Bill Greenhalgh, CEO of HRPA
Succession Planning
Skilled labour is considered a commodity. Businesses will want to consider long-range workforce planning in order to retain competitive advantage and to provide for future growth needs of the company.  This is especially important for critical management positions to ensure organizations are not left with a gaping talent hole that can pose a risk to the success of a company when certain key roles are left vacant due to unplanned departures or retirement.   Knowledge transfer is the key element to consider in order to achieve success with succession planning.

Employers who rise to the challenge in effectively planning for an aging workforce will be the ones who are better positioned to meet an organization's future growth demands - which in turn will help secure it's future prosperity.  

For more details on the Invest in York-Aging Workforce Study, please click here.

We'd love to hear what progressive companies are doing to prepare themselves for an aging workplace.  Leave us a comment and share your thoughts.      

Or, if there is anything Strategywise HR can do to better position your company to meet your future HR needs, feel free to connect with us or send us an email to info@strategywisehr.ca.  


About the author

Belle Yuan is the founder of Strategywise HR. She is professionally designated as a Certified Human Resources Leader (CHRL) with a wealth of corporate experience in human resources and labour/employee relations. Her passion lies in working with conscientious employers in developing proactive strategies that will engage, problem solve, and reduce HR risks and costs in managing staff.

She genuinely loves to help and regularly shares her expertise through blogs, and social media and has been featured in the Canadian HR Reporter. To learn more about her, follow her on social media.


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