Viewpoint: New approaches needed to address workforce challenges

New approaches needed to address workforce challenges by Lydia Greene

This month’s blog is a reprint of an op-ed that ran in the Boston Business Journal in August addressing the challenges an ageing workforce poses for employers. It is written by Operation A.B.L.E.’s Board Chair, and Senior Vice President & Chief Human Resources Officer at Tufts Health Plan, Lydia Greene.

Ageism—or prejudice against our future selves — cuts work lives short

Boston Business Journal’s cover story “Grey Matters” highlighted real challenges. Changing demographics mean the traditional workforce, people ages 18 – 65, is shrinking and large numbers of baby boomers are preparing to retire. This is an opportunity, not a natural disaster.

As senior vice president for human resources at Tufts Health Plan and chair of Operation A.B.L.E.’s board of directors, I know it is possible to develop successful strategies to leverage the experience of older workers to address workforce challenges. And as a board member of the Tufts Health Plan Foundation, which focuses on healthy aging and older adults, I know reframing the conversation about aging is a critical first step in combating ageism.

Ageism—or prejudice against our future selves, as author Ashton Applewhite says— cuts work lives short. As people live longer and healthier lives, we need to rethink our approach to working.

In his State of the Commonwealth address Governor Baker said, “The notion that people are fully retired at the age of 65 is inconsistent with what I see around Massachusetts every day. Many of our older adults still have ample time, energy and talent available to start a second or third career, volunteer in their community, become a mentor or pursue an unfulfilled passion.”

Oxford Economics compiled data on the Longevity Economy, the growing population over 50, for AARP. The report confirms the Governor’s experience. In Massachusetts people over 50 make significant contributions to the economy and the workforce. Seventy two percent of people 50-64 are employed, compared to 81 percent of people 25-49. The Longevity Economy represents both a transformative force and an asset—a fast-growing contingent of active, productive people who are working longer and taking the economy in new directions.

Yes, many older adults want to work beyond their 65th birthday. Work gives them a sense of purpose and fulfillment. And older workers deliver business benefits. Consider these statistics from “A Business Case for Workers Age 50+” prepared for AARP by Aon Hewitt:

  • Older workers increase labor costs minimally while contributing experience and stability. Contrary to common perception, workers age 50+ do not cost significantly more than younger workers.
  • Other advantages of workers ages 50+ include experience, professionalism, work ethic, lower turnover and knowledge.
  • Older workers remain the most engaged age group.
      – 65 percent of workers age 55 and older are considered “engaged” while younger employee engagement averages 58 to 60 percent.
      – An engaged older workforce can influence and enhance organizational productivity and generate improved business outcomes. In fact, a 5% increase in engagement = 3% revenue growth = $150 million additional revenue for a $5 billion company.

Our youth-centric society does not acknowledge the benefits of experienced workers. And current employment practices, public transportation systems and housing policies are not well-suited to today’s reality—in fact, they make it hard for us to stay involved and contribute when we get older. But there are models for success.

Age-friendly employers provide telecommuting options, flexible schedules, paid time off and leave of absence programs. They offer workplace wellness, ergonomic programs and insurance benefits that encourage healthy behavior. They develop training for older workers, educate managers on managing a multigenerational workforce and tap into the industry knowledge of experienced workers. Not surprisingly, these age-friendly perks and benefits attract the best and brightest employees of all ages. At Tufts Health Plan, people 55 and older comprise 22% of our workforce, with several of our staff still going strong at 78. We’re proud to have been recognized by AARP as one of the “Best Places to Work for People over 50” in 2013.

The momentum is building for this approach. Here in Boston, we are surrounded by leaders and innovators in science, technology, medicine and education. As a region, we are known for ingenuity and resourcefulness. Let’s lead the way in establishing age-friendly business practices that will help us meet the needs of all generations.

Lydia Greene
Tufts Health Plan, Senior Vice President & Chief Human Resources Officer

6 Comments

  1. Louise DeBlois, Area Program Coordinator, Carroll, Coos & Grafton Counties, NH. on September 14, 2017 at 1:14 pm

    Thank you for an informative article which I plan to pass on to my Host Agencies.

    • JudyP on September 14, 2017 at 2:42 pm

      You are most welcome and thanks for all you do Louise.

  2. Eric M. Heath on September 14, 2017 at 1:27 pm

    “Our youth-centric society does not acknowledge the benefits of experienced workers.” True, and at its own peril. I think the key word in this sentence is “acknowledge”, because the benefits are there and they are unique to what logevity and experience produce. If managers and executives do not acknowledge the depth and expertise of more mature workers, and embrace that diversity of thought, they will cede advantageous human resources at their disposal.

    • JudyP on September 14, 2017 at 2:46 pm

      Beautifully said Eric. It is our mission to help change the minds of ALL employers of whom this highly-valued demographic can contribute to most. Stay tuned… our work continues.

  3. Donika Kreste on October 12, 2017 at 1:08 pm

    Thank you for an informative article. I passed this article to some neighbors that I see in the train every morning.

    Today one of them told me that I am 40 years old. Could I attend this school, the Operation A.B.L.E

    This moment she is in a school learning English.

    Please let me know.

    • JudyP on October 13, 2017 at 1:25 am

      Hi Donika and thanks so much for reaching out. Though our programming typically targets those 45 and older, we would happily welcome your friend to one of the FREE Wednesday info sessions. We may very well be able to include him/her in one of the skills training programs. Send this link to to your friend: https://operationable.net/information-sessions so they can learn more about the info session. From there they can register to attend online, or they can call the main office at 617.542.4180. Hope to hear from them soon. And thank you again.

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