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Employee Engagement – Preparing for an Aging Workforce
By Lisa Hays, Fresh Perspective
Few would question that change is inherent in businesses – regardless of size, locale, structure or industry. However, there is considerable disparity in the level of foresight business leaders demonstrate in preparing for known future changes.
Known future changes are far easier to prepare for than those thrust on an organization without warning. Still, many business leaders haven't created a culture that drives consistent foresight to enable the business to anticipate and prepare for the specific impact of known changes. Once preparations have been made, actually incorporating the adjustments these changes warrant into the "norm" of business practices becomes much easier.
German carmaker BMW is one positive example of effectively looking forward, gaining perspective on needed upcoming adjustments, and preparing for the future "norm" – specifically as it applies to an aging workforce on vehicle production lines.
Currently four generations make up the U.S. workforce. These include: "Silent/Mature" generation, Baby Boomers, Generation X, and Millennials. Although the Millennial generation is expected to surpass the Baby Boomer generation in the U.S. sometime during 2015, with a population of over 75 million people, the workforce is currently aging, with 32.3% of workers 50+ in 2012 and projections of 35.4% by 2022.*
In Europe – including Germany – the workforce is even older than in the U.S. Therefore, any implications of an older workforce are being felt earlier. Given the desire to retain older workers in the workforce, BMW began working in 2007 to alleviate potential challenges facing older workers.
In 2007 BMW staffed one of its production lines with employees of the average age expected in the 2017 workforce. Then it asked these workers for ideas. Some simple design changes – that cost less than $50,000 to implement – such as better lighting, adjustable magnifying glasses, computer monitors with variable font sizes and "forgiving" floor materials – were all that was deemed necessary to meet the needs of older production line workers.**
*AARP: "A Business Case for Workers Age 50+: A Look at the Value of Experience 2015" (prepared by Aon Hewitt)
** PwC 17th Annual Global CEO Survey, January 2014