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Sloan Center News

As Old as You Feel …

17 February 2011—Age is not just a number. Age is how you feel; it's how others perceive you; it's what you've experienced...

At the Sloan Center on Aging & work, we spend a lot of time focusing on how and why employees are redefining their age, life stage, career stage, etc.

In the workforce today there are as many as four generations working together and older workers have begun choosing to remain in the workplace after the age of 65. It is important for managers to take into account the various dimensions of age. Different programs at the workplace are likely to be more or less effective depending on what dimension of age is the focus.

To better understand the ways "age" is perceived, the Center offers the Prism of Age--a framework illustrating the implications of age for today's multi-generational workforce. Understanding the nuances of "age" gives managers and work teams an opportunity to be more proactive in promoting quality employment experiences.

Of course, some dimensions of age are familiar--chronological age, for example. With an increasing number of adults remaining active throughout later life, it is not uncommon to hear the following:
  "I have passed 65, the "usual" age for retirement. While I consider myself to be an "older" adult, I do not feel old."
Another more common perception of age is one's life events age. A person's stage in life can have implications for what they would like to do in their career at any given point. For example, a recent participant in the Center's Beyond Age Workshops remarked:
  "My children are still young; I anticipate being in the workforce at least another 15 or more years to put them through college."
However, other dimensions of age may be less widely considered. Take, for example, physical age, or the various physical changes that occur over time which affect an individual's abilities and functioning. In the workplace, managers need to consider a person's physical age because a worker's abilities affect not only individual capacities but the tasks that need to be completed and the overall functioning of the work environment.  An employee might need an ergonomic keyboard or a larger computer screen as their motor skills and eye sight can change with age. Offering resources for employees could help them to compensate for their physical limitations.
Prism of Age
Chronological age—the number of years that you have lived.

Generational Age—a group of individuals born during a certain time period (e.g. Gen Y, Gen X, Baby Boomer, The silent Generation).

Physical Age—relative to one's health impact's one's life expectancy or ability to carry out daily tasks.

Social Age—how old society perceives you to be; common references include "40 is the new 30."

Life Stage (Age)—how important events and/or transitional experiences shape major life roles.

Tenure (Age)—the number of years that you have worked for your employer.

Career Stage (Age)—a way to describe a person's stage in their career.

Relative Age—how old a person feels, comparatively, in a group context; at the workplace this could be a department or team.

Subjective Age—backs up the saying, "you are only as old as you feel." This stage reminds us that employees' sense of their own age might be different from their chronological age.
CASE EXAMPLE—American Express: Healthy Living

Research has proven that physical age can also be connected to life events age. Many companies have strong dependent care programs for employees with younger families, but now they are having to restructure for older employees with aging parents. For example, in 2009, American Express launched a global health and wellness program to improve employee and dependent health, manage cost trends, and improve business productivity and performance. They found in India, many employers still provide medical coverage for dependent parents. At American Express's India site, all employees and their dependents, including dependent parents, are covered under the medical insurance plan.

Read more about American Express's Healthy Living Initiative in our recently published case study, The MetLife Study of Global Health & Wellness: A Look at How Multinational Companies are Responding to the Need for a Healthier Workforce.
This is the first in a series of news features describing the relevance of the Prism of Age to employers. Stay tuned—over the coming months, the Sloan Center on Aging & Work will be releasing additional features illustrating different facets of age, discussing workplace implications, and offering case study examples of leading HR practices.

Read more on the Prism of Age at:
Pitt-Catsouphes, M., Matz-Costa, C., & Brown, M. (2010). The prism of age: Managing age diversity at the 21st century workplace. In S. Tyson, & E. Parry (Eds.), Managing an Age Diverse Workforce (pp. 80-94). London: Palgrave Macmillan.

Is Your Company Flexible With Age?

Unprecedented longevity is requiring new ways of thinking and many employers are finding they also need to change their flexibility programs. Current research has found that fully 75% of workers aged 50 and older expect to have retirement jobs in the future, according to the Families and Work Institute and the Sloan Center on Aging & Work. "Working in retirement" is quickly becoming the new normal.
  "Working retirees have great depth of experience and talent and, contrary to stereotypes, they are highly motivated," says Marcie Pitt-Catsouphes, Director of the Sloan Center on Aging & Work. "But keeping them engaged is the key."
Providing flexible work schedules is just one example of how employers can improve quality of employment and make more effective workplaces. "If employers don't recognize what working retirees want," remarks Pitt-Catsouphes, "these valuable employees may move on to jobs with other organizations that do fit their needs."
Join Our Flexibility and the Older Worker Case Study

The Sloan Center on Aging & Work is currently exploring how leading employers are positioning and implementing flexible work options.

This spring, we will be conducting our next case study project on Flexibility and the Older Worker.

Get Involved

Contact Samantha Greenfield at:
| (617) 552-9177