The Ageing of Workforce and Managerial Challenges
The average age of the human population is rising. This has never happened in the history of humanity. Even Robert Malthus had projected that the excess of population is terrible. It puts lots of pressure on natural resources- but that doesn’t mean that we will do a genocide and clear the aged population or take away their rights of life! The population’s ageing brings new challenges to the government, public policy specialists, and organizations. There are two typical observable trends: (1) a dramatic increase in life expectancy and (2) a reduction in deaths due to infectious and parasitic diseases. Europe has become the continent of older adults (above 65). The UK currently has 10 million people above 65, which is likely to grow to 19 million by 2050. People are generally moving towards healthy lifestyles; vaccines are available against infectious diseases. People are using effective birth control methods, and awareness of the population growth has helped in declining fertility rates.
The ageing of the population has brought more significant and impactful managerial challenges. In almost every country, there is a ‘retirement age’. The challenge is how do we redeploy people after retirement and who can contribute meaningfully to the workforce? Does that take away the opportunity of employment for the younger workforce? So the ageing population will change ‘whom do we manage at the workplace’. For example, the aged female workforce is on the rise (as women leave longer than men) across the globe.
The second issue is ‘what needs management. What we manage for the average workforce will be different for the ageing workforce regarding working hours, health and safety and other welfare matters. If we don’t give attention to the ageing workforce, social norms of fairness and equity will be challenged in terms of engagement and compensation. Such a paradigm shift will bring an opportunity to investigate the modified process of career entry, progress, growth and eventual exit. Organizations must adopt newer methods to attract, retain and motivate the experienced and ageing workers as they will bring in societal, organizational and individual challenges. Researching in this area will bring newer learning for public policy experts, business strategists, and managers and help redefine the work environment.
Inter-generational reciprocity is the pillar stone of the social system. Adults help the young dependants, and when they grow up, they ought to care for old dependants. This system is maintained within families and society at large. Adults support public support programs so that the healthcare and well-being of older adults can be taken care of. The concept of ‘working age support’ is a good indicator of the robustness of the welfare program for older people. For example, every 15 people in Australia support one old age person. This ratio is declining in many countries as more people depend on the working population.
At a national level, countries need to prepare more significant outlays for elderly healthcare and aged services, which has a trade-off effect on other public services like education, sanitation and defence. The outlays will increase over the years as today’s ageing population may demand more and better care than previous generations. Environment-related diseases like cancer, pulmonary diseases and dementia may increase both the period of treatment and the outlays for care. We can refer to two observable changes in public policy: redefining the working age and boosting immigration to add the working-age population. Countries allowing immigration will have to face another challenge- how can they maintain social cohesion and manage society due to the rise in cultural diversity due to immigration?
The second and more significant impactful challenge is at the organizational level. For example, increasing the working age group may motivate people to remain in the labour force for longer. Many developing nations will have a young workforce to get into the labour force. So, there will be different types of age stereotypes inside an organization. This will bring another element of diversity challenge inside the organization. Management scholars must look into this phenomenon- how intergenerational issues facilitate teamwork and knowledge management. The willingness to accept elderly employees and, in return, transfer knowledge from elderly workers to young employees may bring opportunities for management scholars to explore. Workplace redesign to facilitate ageing workers is another area that needs the attention of researchers.
The meaning of work varies across individuals, and it also changes over the life cycle of a worker. However, social and organizational policies pressure workers to change their views on work, career and retirement. If the post-retirement benefits and old age healthcare are well planned, that will motivate employees to work longer. Older workers may have to change their jobs to match their physical capabilities. These transitions may require upskilling and retraining. Who will own the transitional training process- government, organization or individuals?
Work is also part of social identity, so any change in the nature and type of work one does may bring issues related to social identity and individual psychological complexities. More research is required on supervisor-subordinate relationships in the context of employee ageing. How does a young supervisor discuss these matters with an elderly supervisor without raising challenges of self-esteem and age-related discrimination? Questions on the relationship between ageing and worker identity, supervisory relationships and self-esteem will be an enriching research topic.
Later career entrepreneurship is also a growing area for research on ageing managers. Start-ups have a higher failure rate, but if ageing managers have a late entry into the start-up ecosystem, they can use their network and professional experience and reduce the failure rates of new enterprises. Availability of financial resources, social support against business failures and identification of potential business opportunities based on professional experience are good indicators for entrepreneurial business success. The addition of age as a variable is an exciting phenomenon to research.
An ageing population may avoid havoc on government policies, organizational practices and individual well-being if managed well. Suppose there is any issue that bothers at all three levels. In that case, the ageing population, their continued employment and their impact on organizations’ policies and strategies are the key areas to focus on. We need to look at opportunities to develop creative and inclusive workspaces so that people can achieve possible work-life balance.