Engaging Older Workers with Flexible Work Options

Dec. 18, 2009
State government agencies particularly are at risk of facing work force shortages in the next 10 years and beyond, as 47 percent of state government workers are aged 45 and over, compared to 37 percent of private sector employees. Offering workplace flexibility could help recruit or retain these older workers.

According to the Sloan Center's States as Employers-of-Choice Survey, conducted with 222 state agencies from 27 states, it is not clear if state agencies are aware of the implications of their changing work force demographics or if they have considered potential action steps, such as offering flexible work options.

Nearly 26 percent of state agencies surveyed had analyzed their workplace demographics “to a great extent,” compared to over 12 percent of private sector work forces. And only 5.8 percent of state agencies reported adopting strategies to encourage older workers to work past traditional retirement age “to a great extent,” compared to 13.8 percent of private sector work forces.

Workplace Flexibility

Most older workers who want to remain in the work force state that the typical 8-hour-a-day, 5-day-a-week workweek is not the employment structure they desire. Offering a variety of flexible work options can be one strategy agencies implement to contend with a potential work force shortage.

Survey results showed that when agencies make the connection between workplace flexibility and overall effectiveness, they significantly were more likely to provide most employees access to a number of flexible work than those agencies that had made this connection to a limited extent or not at all.

Additionally, these agencies were more likely to report being motivated to offer flexible work options in order to recruit older workers, retain older workers and increase the job engagement of older workers than agencies that had not made this connection. State agencies were also found to differ from private sector work forces in their awareness and response to changing work force demographics.

Among the state agencies surveyed, there was a significant association in making the link between working flexibly and overall effectiveness and percentage of late career workers using flexible work options. Agencies that made this link also were more likely to report being motivated to offer flexible work options in order to recruit, retain and increase the job engagement of older workers than agencies not making this link.

Strategies

State agencies must implement strategies to ensure that they retain and recruit the work force talent needed. While many older workers plan to remain in the work force past traditional retirement age, state agencies cannot assume that their employees will postpone retirement, particularly when considering the structure of retirement benefits for many state workers.

Given older workers' preferences for a non-traditional employment structure, offering a variety of flexible work options may be one way for state agencies to encourage older workers to work past traditional retirement age. Agencies that make the link between workplace flexibility and overall effectiveness may find they have a competitive advantage over agencies that have not done so in terms of recruiting, retaining, and increasing the job engagement of older workers.

For more information, visit http://www.bc.edu/research/agingandwork.

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