By Cash Nickerson
President, PDS Tech, Inc. and Author of Stag Nation: Understanding The New Normal In Employment
When one considers diversity, one often thinks of race, gender, sexual orientation, and income level. But there is a new and growing segment of the workforce that has unique needs that need to be addressed and considered. I am speaking of what sociologists have termed the third age, the age band from sixty-five to eighty. Due to a number of factors and principally the great recession, the era of retirement at sixty-five may have ended.
This year roughly 80 million baby boomers (those born between 1946 and 1964) will turn sixty-seven, and there is still an eighteen-year span until the last of the boomers turn sixty-seven. Increasingly these boomers are members of the labor force, not just at fast food restaurants or Walmart, but in Main Street corporate America. While they have all the concerns of other workers, they face deeply embedded stereotypes. They also have special needs that corporations need to address.
I speak with experience as I am president of PDS Tech, one of the largest IT and Engineering staffing firms in the United States. We provide several clients with personnel who are often in their 60s, 70s, and even 80s. These employees face scrutiny with respect to the speed of their work, memory, hearing, and other stereotypes associated with aging. They face what all diverse people have faced: bias. And yet many tell me and I hear from clients that they are doing the best work of their lives. The workplace participants need to be retrained to be aware of and prevent this bias. These folks are absolutely critical.
And special needs don’t simply mean the allowance of more frequent breaks and specific ergonomic needs or flexible or part time hours. As an example, an employee in her 70s had run out of a particular type of leave and had requested more. It was eventually brought to me—she had run out of bereavement time. I had never thought about such an issue before. Young folks need time off for weddings, the boomers sadly, but realistically, need time off for funerals.
We need to accommodate our aging workforce and train other workforce participants to recognize and eliminate bias and discrimination. We also need to engage our aging workforce and better understand their needs. The experience and value of these folks is priceless.