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US Among Highest Rates of Older Workers Globally

Changing Trends, Global Talent Management Demand Renewed Focus on Age

25 February 2010—Employees may be an organization’s most valuable asset, but that asset is aging, and it is a global phenomenon.

Currently men and women aged 45+ make up more than a quarter of the total economically active population in the US—28% and 27% respectively—according to recent studies of both developed and developing economies published by the Sloan Center on Aging & Work. This is more than twice the percentage active in Australia, France, and India within this age group. Another industrial powerhouse, Japan, evidences trends similar to the US.

But in the US, the trend of continued older adult workforce participation is expected to change.

Most employers are aware that globally the proportion of older workers, particularly women, is steadily increasing (see figures 3 and 4). In the United States, however, the opposite is happening—projections indicate that the percentages of American men and women active in the labor force & age 45+ will decrease over the next decade. By 2020 the percentage of men aged 45+ in the labor force will decrease by 4%, while for women it will decrease by 2.5%.

For US companies, the projected loss of talent is not just on the horizon—it is inching closer by the hour. Four of every 10 American employers (40%) surveyed anticipate the aging of the workforce will have a “negative/very negative” impact on their business over the next three years, according to the Sloan Center’s (2009) Talent Management Study. For US businesses the need to entice older workers to delay retirement, to un-retire, or to continue activity in the workplace is here. For global employers, like those in Italy (see Figure 4) the opposite is true—they need to figure out how to deal with the increasing proportion of older adults in their workforces.

Despite differences in the older worker “problem,” both US and global employers ultimately share a similar solution: leveraging the essential capital that older workers bring to the workplace. Recognizing the value added of older workers can help drive business success in the coming decade.

In general, older workers bring to all employers:

  • Intellectual capital—the knowledge, competencies and skills indicated by education and experience;
  • Social capital—the developed relationships inside and outside of the company with members of groups including customers/clients, colleagues, and mentors and mentees of different ages;
  • Cultural capital—an understanding of workplace culture and the cultures of the specific countries where the organization operates; and
  • Individual talents and resources—the personal characteristics and attributes such as enthusiasm, engagement, commitment, and work-related values.

For US businesses, recognizing the value-added of older workers can influence internal retention and recruitment strategies, and as older workers contribute to the sustained success of business the results can be win-win. For global employers, leveraging older workers for positions where their value-added can promote overall organizational growth and success also is win-win.

The changing demographics of the US, indeed global, workforce may seem less dire today in comparison to other crises, but it is a serious concern for the future. The implications of our aging workforce are significant for many long-term business strategies.

Chad Minnich is Associate Director of Marketing & Communications at the Sloan Center on Aging & Work.

The Country Context Studies bring together the expertise of an international community of collaborators. Researchers gather and analyze data that describe employment situations in their own countries of origin, with the aim of detailing the different perceptions of quality of employment. As a group, the research team provides high-quality information, comparable “country to country,” about the context of work for todays global, multi-generational workforce.

The Country Context Studies use existing data to:

  • Provide demographic, workplace, and social statistics on various countries to employers, scholars, and others.
  • Investigate the differences in quality of employment, measured in terms of employee and employer perceptions, both by country and by age.
  • Prepare overviews of policies within a country that affect quality of employment across the life course.