Working Longer

New Strategies for Managing, Training, and Retaining Older Employees

 Working Longer

Authors: William J. Rothwell, Harvey Sterns, Diane Spokus, Joel Reaser
Pub Date: June 2008
Print Edition: $29.95
Print ISBN: 9780814473924
Page Count: 272
Format: Paper or Softback
e-Book ISBN: 9780814400821

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The United States, and indeed the world, faces an employment crisis because of changing demographics. As is well known, millions in the baby boom generation are now eligible to retire—or soon will be. This could create a global talent crisis, which has prompted many organizations to launch succession planning or talent management programs.

But, ironically, although their retirement may cause the talent shortage, baby boomers may also be the solution to the problem—if they remain in, or return to, the workforce. If employers and individuals alike would retire traditional notions of retirement and revisit their stereotypes of older workers, then it might be possible to recruit, retain, and develop or train older workers more effectively. Such a reassessment of talent could be mutually beneficial to, and help meet the needs of, employers and individuals alike.

Sources of Information

As we began writing this book, we decided to explore state-of-the-art practices in recruiting, retaining, and developing older workers. We consulted several major sources of information:

1. A tailor-made survey. In 2006–2007 we surveyed HRM professionals about practices with older workers and also asked those employers to provide a parallel survey to older workers. Selected survey results, which were compiled in January 2007, are published in this book for the first time. While the response rate to this survey was disappointing, the results do provide interesting information. This survey is described more completely at the end of this Preface.

2. Web searches. We examined what resources could be found on the World Wide Web relating to important topics in this book.

3. A literature search. We conducted an exhaustive literature review on best practices and common business practices in recruiting, retaining, and developing older workers. We also looked for case-study descriptions of what organizations have been doing to recruit, retain, and develop older workers.

4. Firsthand in-house work experience. All four authors of this book qualify as members of the “older worker” category. Our own opinions and firsthand experiences are thus valuable.

5. Extensive external consulting and public speaking. The authors have spoken to many people around the world about the topics raised in this book. The thinking in this book does not represent a U.S.-based opinion alone. Instead, thoughts of people from many cultures are reflected here. And, indeed, those opinions are worth knowing about, since the world—not just the United States—is experiencing an aging crisis and a pending talent shortage.

The purpose for using these sources was to ensure that this book provides a comprehensive and up-to-date treatment of typical and best-in-class practices in recruiting, retaining, and developing older workers.

The Scheme of This Book

Working Longer: New Strategies for Managing, Training, and Retaining Older Employees—Theory into Practice is written for managers, trainers, and human resource managers who wish to establish, revitalize, and review programs designed to improve the utilization of older workers in workplace settings. It is geared to meet the needs of human resource management (HRM) and workplace learning and performance (WLP) executives, managers, and professionals. It also contains useful information for chief executive officers, chief operating officers, general managers, university faculty members who do consulting, management development specialists who are looking for a detailed treatment of the subject as a foundation for their own efforts, and others bearing major responsibilities for talent management and development in or for organizations. Finally, the book may also be useful to older workers who are themselves contemplating how to preserve a vital outlook during pre-retirement and post-retirement career planning.

The book is organized in three major parts. Part One, Chapters 1–3, introduces the book. Chapter 1 is entitled “Older Adult Workers in Today’s Work World.” It defines adult and adult workers, discusses the importance of self-management, reviews organizational issues associated with older workers, describes the implications of working longer—the title of the book—and reviews some important physical changes that affect workers as they age.

Chapter 2 is entitled “Adapting the Workplace to Accommodate Physiological Age-Related Changes in Older Adults.” It describes biological aging, psychological aging, social aging, and what is meant by aging globally. It explains issues associated with older workers continuing to work, summarizes why it is important to consider ways to design the workplace to be friendly to older workers, reviews unfortunate stereotypes associated with aging, discusses the implication of the Americans with Disabilities Act as it affects the changing workplace in the United States, and explains what it takes to help older workers remain active.

Chapter 3, the final chapter in Part One, discusses how to train older adults. It focuses on the influence of cognitive tasks on training and learning among older workers.

Part Two focuses on the design of learning and development programs geared to older workers. It examines instructional design and learning-oriented issues for older workers. It also examines career planning for older workers.

Chapter 4 is entitled “Instructional Design for Training Older Workers.” It reviews the traditional steps in the instructional systems design (ISD) model and how it should be modified to address unique issues affecting older workers.

Chapter 5 is entitled “Improving Learning Performance.” It summarizes workplace competence and its importance, reviews research on workplace learning competence and learning climate, summarizes what is known about learner characteristics of older versus younger adults, and discusses the implications of learning principles for training older adults. Chapter 6 focuses on “Career Development for Adults and Older Workers.” It describes key issues associated with self-management: obstacles to it and models of career development as they apply to older workers. Paying attention to career issues for older workers is one key to retaining them.

Part Three provides advice for employers on taking action to recruit, retain and develop older workers. It consists of only one chapter—Chapter 7—which is entitled “What Employers Can Do to Plan for an Aging Workforce.” It offers pointed advice to employers in small, mid-size, and large businesses for creating work settings that are older-worker friendly.

Research Conducted by the Authors

Currently, employers are challenged with how to recruit, train, and retain older workers. Consequently, they struggle to develop and implement creative and innovative human resource practices that contribute to a productive workplace that is also welcoming to older workers. As a result, the authors conducted a survey research study to determine what was being done in the workplace among employers and also asked older workers about current or desirable employment practices for older workers.

The data from this study are important in formulating workplace policies related to recruiting, training, and retaining older workers while taking into account individual differences.


The authors used a quantitative descriptive research method to conduct this study. The data collection was done through a web-based survey instrument. Descriptive statistics were used because they describe data of the sample in a simple, straightforward way. Survey research generally involves interviews or questionnaires.

Strategies and approaches to potential retention of older workers in the workplace were assessed using this online survey developed and delivered through Survey Monkey using a combination of open-ended questions as well as Likert-type response scales.

Target Population and Sample

As part of the project for the book, we conducted a survey of employers. The purpose of the survey was to assess employers’ perspectives on older workers. The survey was posted online. E-Mail invitations were sent to 9,079 individuals on the American Management Association’s mailing list. That list includes executives, human resource professionals, and line managers. Of those, 208 responded to the survey, which yields confidence levels of 6 6.7 percent.

Of those 130 that provided detailed demographic information, the profile of respondents included:

• A third (34.6 percent) had 5000 or more employees; 13.8 percent had 2000–4999; 41.6 percent had 100–1999; and 10 percent had fewer than 100 employees.

• Half were HR managers; a third (31.5 percent) were line mangers; and, 18.5 percent were executives.

• One-third were under 40 years of age; not quite half (45.4 percent) were ages 40–54, and the remainder (21.5 percent) were between 55 and 64 years of age.

Questions were designed to accommodate the diverse employment issues that affect older workers. Half of the respondents worked in HR management, 31.5 percent were line managers, and 18.5 percent were executives. Figures P–1, P–2, P–3 illustrate the age groups of survey respondents, the size of the organizations represented by the respondents, and the industry types represented by the respondents.

While the response rate of the survey was disappointing, it does provide some information to raise questions about employment practices for older workers and provide a simple straw poll of what is happening in some organizations. Initially, a letter was sent to members of the AMA who employed older workers asking them to complete the survey. In addition, after several days, a reminder letter was sent as a follow-up to the employers’ survey.

A second survey of older workers was distributed by employers who were respondents to the survey. That much smaller group consisted of only 23 individuals, far too few to draw conclusions or generalize to a larger population.

The results of both surveys are spread throughout the book to support what the authors have to say about recruiting, retaining, and developing workers.

William J. Rothwell, Ph.D., SPHR

University Park, Pennsylvania

Harvey L. Sterns, Ph.D.

Akron, Ohio

Diane M. Spokus, Ph.D. Candidate

University Park, Pennsylvania

Joel M. Reaser, Ph.D.

Arlington, Virginia

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