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Sloan Center News

State Agencies Failing to Engage Older Workers

7 December 2009—State government agencies are particularly at risk of facing workforce shortages in the next ten years and beyond, as 47% of state government workers are aged 45+, compared to 37% of private sector employees.

According to the Sloan Center's States as Employers-of-Choice Survey, conducted with 222 state agencies from 27 states, it is not clear if state agencies are aware of the implications of their changing workforce demographics or if they have considered potential action steps—such as offering flexible work options—to recruit and retain older workers.

  • 25.8% of state agencies surveyed had analyzed their workplace demographics ‘to a great extent,’ compared to over 12% of private sector workforces
  • 5.8% of state agencies reported adopting strategies to encourage older workers to work past traditional retirement age ‘to a great extent,’ compared to 13.8% of private sector workforces

Most older workers who want to remain in the workforce state that the typical 8-hour-a-day, 5-day-a-week workweek is not the employment structure they desire. Offering a variety of flexible work options can be one strategy agencies implement to contend with a potential workforce shortage.

Survey results showed that agencies having made the connection between workplace flexibility and overall effectiveness were significantly more likely to provide most employees access to a number of flexible work than those agencies that had made this connection to a limited extent or not at all. Additionally, agencies that had made this connection were significantly more likely to report being motivated to offer flexible work options in order to recruit older workers, retain older workers, and increase the job engagement of older workers than agencies that had not made this connection. State agencies were also found to differ from private sector workforces in their awareness and response to changing workforce demographics.

Among the state agencies surveyed, there was a significant association in making the link between working flexibly and overall effectiveness and percentage of late career workers using flexible work options. In state agencies making the link:

  • 28% reported ‘most’ or ‘all’ late career employees utilize flexible work options (13% in agencies not making link)
  • 56% reported at least some late career workers utilize flexible work options (46% in agencies not making link)

Agencies that had made this link were more likely to report being motivated to offer flexible work options in order to recruit, retain, and increase the job engagement of older workers than agencies not making this link.

State agencies must implement strategies to ensure that they retain and recruit the workforce talent needed. While many older workers plan to remain in the workforce past traditional retirement age, state agencies cannot assume that their employees will postpone retirement, particularly when considering the structure of retirement benefits for many state workers.

Given older workers' preferences for a non-traditional employment structure, offering a variety of flexible work options may be one way for state agencies to incentivize older workers to work past traditional retirement age. Agencies that make the link between workplace flexibility and overall effectiveness may find they have a competitive advantage over agencies that have not done so in terms of recruiting, retaining, and increasing the job engagement of older workers.

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The States as Employers-of-Choice Survey was conducted in order to assess state agencies’ level of awareness and understanding of demographic changes, help them assess their response to the aging workforce and contribute to planning for possible action steps. Data from the first wave of the study was collected from 222 state agencies from 27 states between and September 2008. Respondents completed an online survey questionnaire. The States as Employers-of-Choice Study is a collaboration between the Twiga Foundation and the Sloan Center on Aging & Work at Boston College and is supported by the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation.

The National Study of Business Strategy and Workforce Development was conducted in two phases in the winter of 2006 by the Center on Aging & Work at Boston College. For Phase I, a purposive sample of 28 employers was utilized. In Phase II, a random sample of for-profit and non-profit organizations (excluding government public agencies) with 50+ employees were invited to participate. In addition, the Center on Aging and Work used a panel study group to contact organizational representatives with human resource management responsibilities. A total of 578 organizational representatives provided information during Phase I and Phase II.

More on the States as Employers-of-Choice Project »