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National Study of Business Strategy and Workforce Development

The National Study of Business Strategy and Workforce Development surveyed organizations about their responses to the aging workforce including the adoption of a range of flexible work options.  Information was gathered about a range of factors that could explain variation in workplace responsiveness, including: characteristics of the business environment, priority business strategies, HR challenges, workforce development, and workplace culture and workforce demographics.  Data were collected to distinguish “early adapters” from other organizations.

key research questions

  • To what extent have employers considered if/how the aging of the workforce might affect their business operations?
  • What steps have employers taken – including the implementation of flexible work options – to recruit, engage, and retain talented employees at different career stages?
  • Do employers see relationships between their key business strategies and different approaches to talent management, including the engagement of late-career employees?

selected findings

Phase I
Phase I of the National Study of Business Strategy and Workforce Development surveyed a benchmark sample of employers responding to the aging workforce.

  • 41% of the respondents indicated that their companies had analyzed their workforce demographics “to a great extent”.
  • On average, these Benchmark employers noted that they expect that 15% of their employees will retire over the next four years.
  • 61% of the respondents indicated that age diversity is important to their organizations “to a great extent”, compared to the 83% who indicated that gender diversity is that important and the 78% who reported that cultural diversity is important. Employers were also more likely to indicate that it is important “to a great extent” to recruit employees with diverse cultural backgrounds and to recruit both men & women than to recruit employees of diverse ages.
  • Twice as many of the Benchmark employers (64%) indicated that it is important “to a moderate or great extent” to encourage early career employees to remain with the organization as did the 29% who indicated that it was important “to a moderate or great extent” to encourage late career employees to remain with the organization.
  • The top three HR challenges “to a moderate/great extent” noted by the Benchmark employers were: providing effective supervision, knowledge transfer, and recruiting competent job applicants.  Despite the fact that 59% of the Benchmark organizations reported that knowledge transfer is a challenge, a substantial proportion (approximately two of every five) had either not developed processes to transfer institutional memory/knowledge “at all” or had only developed these processes “to a limited extent.”
  • More than half of the respondents to the Benchmark Study felt that: Early-career employees tend to take initiative and be creative; mid-career employees tend to be loyal to the company, be productive, be reliable, have established networks of professional colleagues, and have high skills relative to what is needed for the job; and late-career employees tend to take initiative, be loyal to the company, be reliable, have established networks of professional colleagues, have high skills relative to what is needed for the job, have strong work ethics, and have low turnover rates.
  • 50% or more of the Benchmark employers indicated that the following flexible work options are available to their full-time employees: request changes in starting and quitting times on a daily basis; reduce their work hours and work on a part-time basis while remaining in the same position or at the same level; control when they take breaks; and choose a work schedule that varies from the typical schedule at their organizations.
  • 45% of male workers aged 50 or older have access to guaranteed benefits plans at work in comparison to the 35% of the females.
  • Approximately one of every five of the Benchmark respondents state that their organizations link workplace flexibility to overall business effectiveness “to a great extent” with another half (47%) indicating that this link is made “to a moderate extent.”
  • The barriers to flexibility identified by 50% or more of the Benchmark respondents included: implementation costs too much; administrative hassles; concerns about possible employee complaints or liability; employees don’t seem to want these programs and policies; no productivity payoff anticipated; not cost-effective; concerns about increased absenteeism; concerns about treating all employees equally; the organization has other more pressing business issues.

Phase II
Phase II of the National Study of Business Strategy and Workforce Development surveyed a more representative sample of United States businesses.

  • Only a minority of employers in the National Study (34%) reported that their organization had made projections about retirement rates of their employees to a moderate or great extent. One-fourth (26%) reported that their organizations had not analyzed the demographics of their workforces at all.  In contrast, only 12% felt that their organizations had analyzed their workforce demographics to a “great extent.”
  • Since older workers’ prefer flexible work options, it is important that employers also acknowledge the key role of workplace flexibility in recruiting and retaining employees of all ages.  More than half of employers (59%) indicated that flexible work options were available for their employees to a “moderate” or “great extent.”
  • The flexible work options offered by the highest percentage of employers to “most/all” of their full-time employees include employees’ ability to: request changes in starting and quitting times from time to time; choose a schedule that varies from the typical schedule at the work site; have some control over when to take a break; and take extended leave for caregiving.
  • Employers are beginning to make a link between flexibility options and their core business. More than half of employers (55%) link workplace flexibility and overall business effectiveness to a “moderate” or “great” extent.
  • Employers’ motivations for flexibility varied, but key motivators included: (percentage agrees to a moderate or great extent)
    - To increase employees’ commitments and job engagement (67%)
    - To do the right thing for your employees (66%)
    - To improve morale (63%)
    - To help retain highly skilled employees (62%)
    - To retain employees, in general (61%)
    - To increase productivity (61%)
    - To help employees manage work and family life (60%)
  • When it comes to retention and recruitment of older employees, again only a minority has taken the lead: Only 37% of employers had adopted strategies to encourage late-career workers to stay past the traditional retirement age.  Less than one-third of respondents (31%) indicated that their organizations adopted practices to recruit employees of diverse ages to “a great extent.”
  • Employers identified career stages defined by three sets of factors: education and training; prior experience; and intention to pursue work in their career.  Employers associated age ranges with career stages: early career employees (ages 21-38); mid-career employees (ages 31-47); and late career employees (ages 46-53).  It is important to note that these stages and ages overlap, suggesting permeable boundaries between stages.
  • Employers said that late-career employees, “have high levels of skills and strong professional and client networks, a strong work ethic, low turnover, and are loyal and reliable.”  In addition, contrary to some stereotypes of older workers, similar percentages of employers felt it is “very true” that late-, mid-, and early-career employees take initiative. And a similar percentage of employers felt it was “very true” that early-, mid-, and late-career employees are productive.
  • Professional services firms and social service agencies are two industry sectors that offer a greater scope of workplace flexibility (taking into consideration the number of flexible work options and the extent to which these options are available to employees in the workforce).
  • Factors that predict the scope of workplace flexibility include: having conducted analyses of their workforces (e.g., demographic analyses, projections of retirement, and examination of employees’ career plans); having top managers aged 65 and older; having a “culture of commitment” with regard to workplace flexibility; and reporting more motivators for adopting flexible work options. Along with selected control variables, these variables explain 26% of the variance in workplace flexibility.
  • Although perceptions of union considerations (as a barrier) are not a statistically significant predictor of the scope of flexible work options, union presence is related to a more limited scope of workplace flexibility.

   

publications

contact

For questions of information regarding the the Benchmark and National Studies, or to schedule a conversation with any of the Center’s team, please contact:

617-552-9195 | agework@bc.edu

   

the national study team

  Katherine Kane
Vice President, Research
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Christina Matz-Costa, MSW, PhD
Senior Research Associate
Sloan Center on Aging & Work, Boston College
Assistant Professor
Graduate School of Social Work at Boston College
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Marcie Pitt-Catsouphes, PhD
Director
Sloan Center on Aging & Work, Boston College
Professor
Graducate School of Social Work & Caroll School of Management, Boston College
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Ce Shen, PhD
Associate Professor of Social Work
Graduate School of Social Work, Boston College
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Michael Smyer, PhD
Provost
Bucknell University
Research Fellow
Sloan Center on Aging & Work, Boston College
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