From The Ergoweb® Learning Center

Working to Keep Older Workers

While AARP [formerly the American Association of Retired Persons] statistics show that a little more than 13 percent of the United States workforce is age 50 and up, at California’s The Aerospace Corporation, that number is closer to one-half.  And it’s a statistic that makes the company proud.


What could be seen as a challenge for any workplace addressing the unique accommodations needs of an aging workforce, for The Aerospace Corporation, a non-profit organization, retaining a workforce of experienced professionals is a boon.

“We . . . value older workers because they serve as mentors for younger personnel, introducing them to our programs and focusing their efforts to meet mission requirements,” said Aerospace representative David L. Jonta, who notes that the company doesn’t necessarily look to hire older workers but instead retains its already-knowledgeable staff even after retirement. For the past two years, The Aerospace Corporation has received an award from AARP for being a top employer for workers over the age of 50 because of its focus to keep older workers productive and satisfied with their jobs, and the company’s motivation to continue to do so is sound.  “Because we are, in effect, the corporate memory of the Defense Department’s space program, retaining workers directly supports the continuity of effort for programs that evolve over long periods, even decades,” said Jonta.

Carol Henderson, Vice President of Human Resources for Scottsdale Health Care, another AARP award recipient, has a similar reason for attracting and retaining older workers. “Older workers typically have a broad and diverse amount of experience. In addition, many perform their roles with a work ethic that is perceived to be higher than other age groups,” Henderson said.

“In health care, staff shortages in key positions are issues that we face every day. Finding unique ways to retain older workers will help us manage the workload as these shortages continue into the future,” continued Henderson.

But both Scottsdale Health Care and The Aerospace Corporation have to work to keep these valuable older-worker commodities. “We work to retain employees over the long term by offering a stable work environment, attractive incentives, and challenging assignments,” said Jonta.  Just offering an older worker a position or a paycheck isn’t enough.

But, if a recent Newsweek report is correct in assuming that turnover rates nationwide are expected to double in the next year, how do companies successfully attract or retain a staff of committed workers, both young and old? In a word, ergonomics.

According to Jonta, The Aerospace Corporation offers incentives like flexible scheduling, part-time, flex-time, telecommuting, and other alternative work arrangements to fit with the wants and needs of older workers.  Another company program lets retired employees work up to 1,000 hours each year with no effect on their retirement benefits. That, says Jonta, comes in particularly handy when the company is working on “surge” projects that may benefit from a retired worker’s expertise.  Plus, the company also has a program that allows a worker to “test the retirement waters” before making any type of commitment.   Henderson adds that in addition to flexible scheduling options, her organization also offers flexible benefits plans, seasonal employment, career counseling, ongoing education and training for workers with new areas of interest, and a chance to job share.

The cost of hiring and training new workers is high, particularly when other factors like potential errors, injuries and allowing for a learning curve are considered.  In a recent MSNBC article, a representative of Baptist Health South Florida

This article originally appeared in The Ergonomics Report™ on 2004-08-01.