Older Workers in the Workplace
Many healthcare facilities are usually defined by the presence of different groups of workers. Age is a common characteristic, which separates most of them (Outten, 2012). The same is true for the Orchard Healthcare Center in Alabama (a nursing facility for the elderly), which has different workers from diverse age groups. The breakdown is as highlighted in table 1 below.
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Table 1. Demographic Breakdown of Employees (Source: Developed by Author).
|20 years – 30 years||36%|
|30 years – 40 years||38%|
|40 years – 50 years||20%|
|50 years – 60 years||3%|
|60 years – 70 years||2%|
According to table 1 above, most employees in my workplace are aged between 30 and 40 years (38%). The second-largest group of workers is comprised of those who are between 20 years and 30 years. They comprise 36% of the total population sample, while those who are aged between 40 years and 50 years are 20% of the employee population. The healthcare staff that is between 50 years and 60 years, 60 years and 70 years and more than 70 years are all less than 5% each. Broadly, the general distribution of employee ages in my organization differs from the findings of Uthaman, Chua, and Ang (2015) which show that the average age of healthcare staff in Australia, Canada, and the United Kingdom is between the mid to late 40s. Table 1 demonstrates that most employees in my workplace are below 40 years. Although there is a small population of older workers at the Orchard Healthcare Center, they experience unique challenges and opportunities as described below.
Challenges and Opportunities for Older Workers in the Workplace
The recognition of special services provided by older workers is one practice at the Orchard Healthcare Center, which contributes to the creation of a conducive work environment for older workers. For example, in November 2017, the oldest registered nurse at the facility was given a commendation for good service after working for 25 years. Although set to retire in 2020, she recently expressed her appreciation to her colleagues by singing a song for them during the 2017 Christmas celebrations. In private conversations, she advised me to stay committed to my work because I will get a similar commendation in the future. Such conversations demonstrate how recognizing the services of older workers at the Orchard Healthcare Center makes them feel appreciated.
Another organizational practice at the facility, which makes older employees feel appreciated, is the promotion of good interpersonal relationships with colleagues and patients. Engaging with older workers is highlighted by Outten (2012) as one of the roles of nursing managers. At the same time, Manion (2009) highlights the need for nurse managers to change their leadership styles to accommodate older workers. This reason explains why many of them find the relationships they share with colleagues at Orchard Health Care Center enjoyable and rewarding. Indeed, in a recent work seminar, my 56-year old departmental head revealed to me that the interpersonal relationships she shares with some of her older colleagues give her satisfaction and meaning.
The culture of innovation and the integration of new technology in my organization’s data management systems is a challenge for older employees because most of them admit to having trouble adapting to these new systems. In this regard, they consider the fast-paced nature of their work as a limiting aspect of their performance. Uthaman et al. (2015) have also discussed a similar problem in the nursing environment by pointing out that the inability of older workers to adapt to new technology is associated with higher levels of mental stress, and decreased physical stamina.
The popularity of the group coaching method at the Orchard Healthcare Center is also another challenge that older nurses experience in my organization. In such a setup, there is no provision for one-on-one coaching, which most senior nurses prefer. At the same time, there is no recognition of a central authority in the organization’s decision-making framework because every employee has an equal opportunity to contribute to its processes, within a broader democratic leadership model. This bottom-up leadership style is problematic for many older employees who value the presence of a central authority in the workplace.
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Strategies to Retain and Engage Older Workers
One strategy that I could use to retain and engage older workers is to match their abilities with assigned tasks. Here, emphasis should be made to understand the physical and mental limitations of older workers because they should be assigned responsibilities that are commensurate with the same. This view aligns with the recommendations of Chambers (2010), which highlight the need for managers to tap into the unique strengths of every generational cohort (Chambers, 2010). A second strategy I would employ to improve the performance of older workers is promoting a healthy workforce as a core attribute of organizational performance. This strategy stems from observations made by researchers, such as Uthaman et al. (2015) and Hatcher (2006), who posit that older workers tend to suffer from health problems such as excessive weight gains, arthritis, back pains, poor vision, and the likes. Promoting a culture of wellness in the organization would also help older workers to feel “safe” in the organization by making them believe that staying at work is good for their health. This way, there is a strong possibility of improving their retention levels. Uthaman et al. (2015) support this view by suggesting the legal implementation of physical capability testing methods to make sure duties assigned to older employees align with their physical capabilities.
Safeguarding the autonomy of tasks in the workplace is also another strategy I would employ to retain older workers because, typically, they have adequate experience working for many years. Therefore, they require a sense of independence in the execution of their tasks. Denying them the opportunity to do their work this way could have a negative effect on their job performance (Collins-McNeil, Sharpe & Benbow, 2012). Therefore, I would ensure they operate autonomously. Lastly, another strategy I would employ to retain older employees is to recognize and manage the psychosocial risk factors that are associated with them. These risk factors could be loosely associated with a declining sense of worth and resistance to job design (Uthaman et al., 2015). The goal is to make the employees believe that their younger colleagues support them; otherwise, they could easily build resentment towards their work. Being aware of such risks and providing a supportive framework to counter the same is important in the provision of necessary psychosocial support that older workers need to accomplish their tasks. Comprehensively, it is essential to recognize the unique challenges that older workers experience in the workplace and provide a supportive framework that would allow them to realize their full potential.
Chambers, P.D. (2010). Tap the unique strengths of the millennial generation. Nursing, 40(2), 48-51.
Collins-McNeil, J., Sharpe, D., & Benbow, D. (2012). Performance potential. Aging workforce: Retaining valuable nurses. Nursing Management, 43(3), 50-51.
Hatcher, B.J. (Ed.). (2006). Wisdom at work: The importance of the older and experienced nurse in the workplace (White Paper). Web.
Manion, J. (2009). Managing the multi-generational nursing workforce: Managerial and policy implications (White Paper). Web.
Outten, M.K. (2012). From veterans to nexters: Managing a multigenerational nursing workforce. Nursing Management, 43(4), 42–47.
Uthaman, T., Chua, T.L., & Ang, S.Y. (2015). Older nurses: A literature review on challenges, factors in early retirement and workforce retention. Proceedings of
Singapore Healthcare, 25(1), 50-55. Web.