I recently read an article that sparked some debate on Twitter while also illustrating how we can all think a little bigger about accommodations for the aging workforce. The article put a spotlight on the case of a woman with early-onset dementia who worked for a supermarket. While the woman’s doctor and family believed she was at a point in her disease where she would need to leave the workforce, her employer had a more creative take on finding ways for her to remain at work. For months beyond expectations, they worked to retrain her on the job as needed, and to train those working alongside her to help in a supporting role. The store also invited the woman’s family members into the training process so they could reinforce the things she was learning during off hours at home. This company’s compassionate and creative thinking allowed them to retain a valued employee beyond initial expectations and to give her additional value and purpose, even in the face of an aggressive illness.
While the measures taken by this company may be outside of traditional thinking, what’s to say that many other employers couldn’t also take a similarly creative approach?
INSIGHTFUL STRATEGIES FOR MANAGING AND ACCOMMODATING AN AGING WORKFORCE
Advances in public health and medicine are enabling Americans to live and work longer, resulting in an unprecedented transformation of the workplace. What does this mean for businesses, and how is this trend impacting the workforce and management strategies for employers?
Aging is an inevitable and irreversible part of the life cycle. Given the size of the Baby Boomer population, the average age for workers will increase, along with the likelihood of more employees living with and managing a disability.
The aging process has obvious and predictable consequences: reduced strength, possible hearing loss, deteriorating eyesight, less physical flexibility, slower reaction times, and other age-related limitations. However, many older workers will continue to work at full production with no limitations and no need for accommodation. In fact, some studies suggest that older workers have the fewest number of work-related injuries. 
However, it is important to consider and understand the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) when managing an aging workforce. With the ADA, employers must provide a reasonable accommodation to individuals with disabilities to meet a qualification standard that is relevant to the job and consistent with business necessity. A reasonable accommodation is any change in the position or workplace that is customarily made to provide an employee with impairment access to equal employment opportunities. A person who has medical conditions often associated with age, such as osteoporosis, arthritis, hearing loss, or hypertension, can be considered as having an impairment on the basis of the medical condition.
Managing an aging workforce requires employers to consider the provision of different training for older workers compared to younger workers and diversification of roles according to worker capabilities and job demands. Examples of reasonable and practical accommodations to improve activities of older workers include:
- Make work facilities accessible.
- Allow use of a personal attendant or service animal at work.
- Apply ergonomics and adaptive equipment to improve workstations: change the position and height of monitors, provide foot supports, three-in-one stand-sit chairs, or knee pads with shin guards.
- Allow longer breaks or more frequent shorter breaks.
- Use mechanical assistive devices and workplace design to reduce physical activities.
- Allow a flexible work schedule.
Employers should also recognize that diversity and inclusion are becoming increasingly important. The aging workforce brings its own distinct characteristics, values, and attitudes to work. The growing number of workers aged 65 and above will shape preferences about work and retirement, practices implemented by employers, and the direction of a company’s policy. To sustain future success, an organization should establish a collaborative work environment in which all employees from different generations share ideas and innovate together to deliver on shared purposes. Employers should aspire to become inclusive leaders and make sure all employees, regardless of age and background, feel welcome and empowered to be high performers.
The aging population has and will continue to alter the workforce landscape. Those organizations that learn to accommodate and leverage the collective talents and skills of older workers can expect to achieve a higher degree of long-term success. Companies, communities, families and workers can all benefit from this type of approach. And that is a desired outcome at any age.
> Insightful strategies for managing and accommodating an aging workforce, republished from DMEC’s @Work Magazine, September 14, 2018