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Managing a graying work force.

Managing a graying work force

Step back and look at your staff. Does everyone seem a little older? It wouldn't be surprising--the American work force is graying.

The number of individuals at or near retirement age will rise from 12 million in 1960 to 20 million by the year 2000, according to the Census Bureau. People are not only living longer but also working longer.

Several factors account for this. First, employees are willing to work to a later age for income that will sustain today's standard of living. Second, faced with the uncertainty of the Social Security system, they want to keep building their nest eggs. And third, the number of single heads of households is increasing; as a group, they are less inclined than family heads to retire.

In addition, Americans are just feeling better and living longer. Many don't feel an urgent need to drop out of the rat race when they reach their early to mid-60s. Supporting this change in outlook is Federal legislation that has struck down mandatory retirement at age 65. Most employees now have the option of working up to and into their 70s.

The aging American work force is proving to be a mixed blessing for employers. On the positive side, laboratories and other organizations can retain highly knowledgeable, conscientious workers who have demonstrated their loyalty over the years. These employees seem to be more stable and dependable than their younger co-workers, and to have a higher level of job satisfaction. On the negative side, some employers are stuck with costly individuals who cannot adapt to the rapid pace of technological changes and cannot keep up with the productivity of younger employees.

The impact of an older work force is probably more pronounced in the laboratory than in the average workplace. Given the high level of technological change, employees are frequently asked to adapt to new methods, procedures, or equipment. This can pose an extra challenge with an older staff, and we managers and supervisors must respond to it.

First, we must make sure to give employees a fair chance to grow in their jobs. We cannot assume that because someone is older, he or she cannot adapt. Also, how close to retirement age an employee is should not interfere with an opportunity to grow.

Motivation is another problem managers may face with older employees. Often, employees reach a certain point in their careers when they become resigned to not doing any better. So they coast on the job until retirement, conserving energy for other aspects of their lives. Managers show older employees that they remain valuable to the organization by giving them increasing responsibilities and challenges.

If in some cases an older employee cannot adapt, try to find an area in the laboratory where his or her skills can best be put to use. Maybe some section is still using manual or semiautomated procedures. Or perhaps the employee can draw on special talents and expertise, taking on a role such as quality control coordinator.

The bottom line is that we should make every effort to encourage and support older employees to continue to make a valuable contribution. If we give up too easily on them, they will give up on themselves. To the rest of the staff, this can be demoralizing because we can all project being in the same position one day.

If honest attempts fail and it is still apparent that the individual cannot function, then the issue of retirement should be considered. Most people do more planning for a two-week vacation than they do for retirement, never taking the time to really understand the details until it is too late.

To help employees plan, personnel departments in many organizations are now offering pre-retirement seminars. The most thoughtful programs cover not only the financial ramifications, such as estate planning and pension options, but also the psychological adjustments required when work suddenly stops and ex-employees have excess time on their hands.

It's not easy being older in what is essentially a young person's field. We have to make sure senior personnel do not become isolated from their co-workers or feel they are being put out to pasture. Since most younger technologists have no concept of laboratory techniques of years ago, why not assign an older staff member to give an in-service on how tests were performed in the good old days? Younger techs may perceive their senior counterparts in a different light and pay them the respect they are due.

It's up to us to determine if our older staff members are to be an asset or a burden. We head in the right direction if we keep in mind that we are all travelers on the same road of life. Some of us are just further along.
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Copyright 1986 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:number of individuals at near retirement age has risen
Author:Maratea, James M.
Publication:Medical Laboratory Observer
Article Type:column
Date:Mar 1, 1986
Words:798
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