Age Appropriate Working Practices

08/30/2013
Photo: Elderly man working

A new study examines how employees in small and medium-sized enterprises can remain fulfilled and productive as they age; © anyka/panthermedia.net

How do companies make their workplaces suitable for an aging workforce, and what useful approaches or examples of good practice do they offer? In a current research project commissioned by the Baden-Württemberg Ministry of Finance and Economics, Fraunhofer IAO has set out to find the means by which companies deal with the issue of age-appropriate working practices.

The impact of demographic change and the numbers behind it have been common knowledge for a long while. But it is only now that responses to it seem to be heading in the right direction. Finally, there is an acceptance that the solution no longer lies in recruitment and a reliance on youth to cure all ills but rather in age-appropriate working practices. Companies that wish to remain productive must take steps to avoid future situations where their employees are no longer able to perform their duties as they age, having to take long periods off work due to illness, experiencing impaired performance, or even reaching the point where they can perform only light duties.

In other words, companies need to act now to maintain and reinforce the employability of older workers at an early stage and constantly recognize, stretch and nurture their capabilities.

Companies seeking to foster a working environment suited to the changing needs of people as they age have to consider issues such as staff development, further training, how to organize their workforce, knowledge management and preventive healthcare. Fraunhofer IAO has been tasked with finding examples of best practice in these areas as part of a research project commissioned by the Baden-Württemberg Ministry of Finance and Economics. Thanks to a German-language online questionnaire and telephone interviews, the project team has already been able to gain some insights and is in a position to set out its preliminary findings:

Small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) have already identified for themselves all the core areas where action needs to be taken. This means that the study will be able to present sample measures for all areas.

The scope of measures taken does not depend on the size of the company but rather on its management.

As far as corporate culture is concerned, there is significant disparity between caring companies that consider the workload of their employees as part of welfare and the type of company that explicitly stresses individual responsibility and calls on employees to have their own say in such matters.

The study will also unveil completely new structural approaches, including training positions for the middle-aged and elderly as well as positions aimed specifically at staff retention.

Demographics are increasingly a leadership consideration in which management is supported by wide-scale awareness initiatives, strategic alignment and direct coaching.

Family and private life are assuming a more prominent role, both at corporate events and through family-friendly part-time positions. Activities promoting health are also common in these companies.

High-tech companies are particularly active in taking steps to protect knowledge.

The study is aimed at departmental, HR and general managers in small and medium-sized enterprises and will run until the end of October. The edited study report, entitled “Making demographics work for you” will be available from the beginning of next year.

REHACARE.de; Source: Fraunhofer-Institut für Arbeitswirtschaft und Organisation IAO

More about Fraunhofer-Institut für Arbeitswirtschaft und Organisation IAO at: www.iao.fhg.de