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How older employees can adapt in today’s fast-paced business climate

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As manufacturing plants close in the Indianapolis area and workers become displaced, many older workers become frustrated in their jobs because natural aging makes it difficult to maintain efficient job performance.

A little ingenuity and creativity can accommodate for employees’ natural deficiencies caused by aging without compromising a company’s bottom line. Small ergonomic and technological changes can offer effective accommodations.

Many companies have the technology already existing within the over-the-counter (OTC) software on their employees’ computers, but employees don’t know how to access the solutions. A suggestion might be to inform employees during orientation or send a company-wide notification instructing employees to contact the tech department to activate these settings.

Productivity is reached not by making employees work harder and faster but by eliminating unfriendly circumstances that prevent older employees from reaching their fullest potential. Applied extensively to a business, working to develop older employees can be as productive and significant as strategic planning and quality control. It has a real and evident impact on productivity, performance, delivery of services, and the bottom line. It can also influence an entire business by amplifying the most important business essential-enabling workers to do their job.

Here are some ideas to help employers and employees with an aging work force:

Prevent injury

The average person loses 40 percent of his or her strength by 45 years old, up to 80 percent by 70. If this person’s job requires lifting, the job becomes more hazardous with age and injuries take longer to heal. Try some of these low-cost options to protect employees from injury:

Convert pulling to pushing by employing hand trucks and conveyors.

Keep work in progress at waist level.

Avoid having employees reach more than 15 inches in front of their bodies.

Train in proper lifting techniques and provide lifting belts.

Accommodate for loss of mobility: A standard keyboard and mouse often becomes more difficult to use as people age because of various mobility diseases (arthritis, repetitive stress injury). Voice-activated equipment, can reduce or prevent many strain-related injuries.

Compensate for vision loss: As early as age 35, workers can begin to experience such common vision changes as color blindness, general eye fatigue, and shrinking pupils. Providing more light in the work area can reduce a lot of eye stress.

Acknowledge hearing loss: Partial hearing loss can restrict workers’ ability to interact with others; to get, receive, and interpret information; and to identify hazards in the workplace.

If managers observe or overhear employees complaining about an older worker’s performance or responsiveness, investigate some of these issues rather than assuming the worst of a loyal worker. Organizations, like Easter Seals, will loan equipment that will accommodate many of these age-related performance issues at no cost to the company.

Offer work time alternatives

In 2000, 13 percent of our workforce was 50 or older. The Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that by 2020 that number will rise to 20 percent. No decline is expected until 2050.

Many of these workers have the added responsibility of caring for aging parents and minor children.

Increasing health issues reduce these employees’ ability to continue working in a traditional environment. Flexible work arrangements can help both employer and employee balance life and work. Retired employees can be rehired part time, as consultants, or temporarily; older workers may want to share jobs, work at non-traditional times, or work from home. Older workers also value longer vacation time, self-funded leaves, and phased-in retirement.

Provide training

Despite laws to punish age discrimination, many employers still maintain misperceptions of the mature worker. Many managers still feel older workers are inflexible, slow to accept new technology, less productive, less able to perform strenuous jobs, and unable to learn new skills. Educate younger managers to understand their mature workers. Just like younger employees, mature employees can adapt to training as well. Offering training in various styles will help companies ensure that every employee learns.

Dr. Jesse Brown is a wealth management and wealth preservation specialist. He is a best-selling author of the book “Investing in the Dream-Wealth Building Strategies of African-Americans seeking Financial Freedom,” “Pay Yourself First a Guide to Financial Success,” and “Pay Yourself First – A Guide to Financial Success.” For questions or comments about this column, email browncolumnrecorder@aol.com.

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