For many years, the goal of the American employee was to retire early and spend a few years in carefree retirement enjoying the fruits of a long career, more often than not with a single company. The "Baby Boomers" who will start turning 62 this year no longer have their "father's pension plan." This is just one of the reasons that employees are staying on the job longer or may entirely switch careers as they approach what many used to believe was the "expected retirement age" of 65. This lengthening of the working career presents both challenges and opportunities to the business community.
A look at the changing demographics of the workplace and public policy decisions are impacting forever the nature of older workers in our places of business. In the past, many employees looked forward to a pension plan that was designed, funded and administered by their employer. They knew that at the end of working career, they were guaranteed a monthly check, which in many cases, increased to meet the rate of inflation. This income, in addition to the monthly checks received from the federal Social Security System, was usually enough to allow the retiree to live comfortably for the 10 to 15 years that they expected to live from retirement at age 65.
The American Association of Retired People noted that between 2000 and 2020, the number of individuals between the ages of 55 to 64 will increase by nearly 40 percent and those above the age of 65 will also increase by more that 40 percent (AARP).
How things have changed! Many of us are required to fund our own "retirement accounts" through 401Ks, make our own investment decisions and even social security is now fully realized only if the employee retires after age 66 or 67, depending on current age. Anyone who has recently looked at their 401K statement may have decided to work longer than they planned even 1 year ago. Because the average person is living longer, it's very probable that they will live past 85. The additional medical cost that older Americans need to plan for is another reason that some workers are delaying retirement from their employers or starting a "second career" either as a part-time or full-time employee after they have "retired." The rest of this paper is devoted to the adaptations that American business needs to make to maintain a safe work environment for the "silver-collared" workers that are becoming a fixture at our places of business.
We will discuss various conditions and areas of concerns impacting both employees and employers. In each of these sections, a list of suggested improvements or actions will be identified to assist the employer in adapting the physical workplace or workplace policies to take into account the increasing number of aging employees.
A review of injury and illness data across various workplaces shows some interesting results.