This week I co-presented a session on strategies for managing an aging workforce with a lawyer at a Bay St. law firm. The discussion centered on both the legal and HR related issues that employers face with an older workforce. At n-gen we refer to older workers as “experienced” employees because we feel this is a more positive term, however, regardless of term, the issues remain the same. They include:
- An organization’s legal duty to accommodate
- Managing performance issues
- Creating an engaging and inclusive work environment for all employees
- Managing talent given the repeal of mandatory retirement
Our session explored legal cases as well as the leadership and HR related issues inherent in managing employees who may, due to their age, experience a decline in their health, skills or abilities. Part of our conversation focused on how to effectively manage performance given this reality in some workplaces.
The “Super-aged” Societies
You probably already know many of the stats. We are facing an aging workforce and a shrinking labour pool. In Canada the data reveals:
- Median age of the Canadian population is 40 years old
- Fastest growing sector is over 65 years old
- In 2011, for the first time there were more people 55 to 64 years old, than 15 to 24
- In 2010, more than 1 in 6 workers was aged 55 or older
- By 2029 all Baby Boomers will have reached 65 years old
With a sharp incline in older citizens and employees, we are at risk of not being able to replace employees when they retire. In 1991, the ratio of younger workers 25-34 years old to those 55 years or older peaked at 3.1. That ratio fell to 1.3 in 2010.
All of these stats suggest that we are already in the midst of a global aging crisis, which will impact economic growth. By 2020, 13 countries will be “super-aged” — with more than 20% of the population over 65, according to a report by Moody’s Investor Service. Watch this short video interview for more details.
The report states that Canada, Spain and the U.K. will be “super-aged” by 2025, and the U.S. will follow by 2030.
How to Manage Performance of an Aging Workforce
Performance management is critical regardless of the age of your employees. It is imperative that you have a process in place that is objective, clearly communicated, and reinforced throughout the year. This is the ‘science’ of performance management. It includes all the documents and forms that must be completed. The ‘art’ of performance management is about ensuring that your managers can execute your program consistently and that they have the skills to conduct effective performance management conversations. As more organizations shift to a performance based culture where leaders are accountable for people leadership, there is an increased need to provide learning, development and coaching support to front line managers to ensure they can increase team performance and drive higher levels of productivity.
The artfulness of the performance management process requires that leaders be able to:
- Understand their employees– motivators, learning styles, expectations & values
- Be able to ascertain if an employee’s performance is a knowledge, skills or attitude gap
- Acknowledging that they may be spending too much time with low performers or high performers and not given enough time to discussion with the moderate performers which generally represent 60% of your workforce
- Acknowledging the emotional component for both themselves and the employee
- Adjust their communication styles and techniques to have the right performance management conversations with different types employees
How your organization manages the performance of an aging workforce should be the same as how you would manage the performance of any employee group. However, there is a greater need to be sensitive and supportive when communicating performance issues with experienced employees particularly if there is a decline in performance due to age related mental, physical or psychological issues.
If an employee is being held to a standard that they cannot meet due to a natural performance decline, the best approach is to have provide solutions in conjunction with your performance management process, such as:
- Alternative employment opportunities
- Phased retirement plan
- Fixed or short-term contracts
- Voluntary early retirement incentives
As with all performance issues, it’s important that managers act ‘just in time’ to address issues, clearly communicate expectations and support employees to improve. Don’t wait until months (or years) of poor performance have passed. Don’t assume that a poor performer will retire. Set all employees up for on-going success by having open and transparent performance management conversations so that the root cause of performance issues can be uncovered and addressed collaboratively.