Aging Workforce and Health Care Organizations, Research Paper Example
Words: 3281Research Paper
Working within the health care industry requires several skills, such as empathy, experience dealing with diverse populations, technical skills and knowledge of interventions. Today’s health care workforce is becoming older on the average, while the demand for new nurses and social carers is increasing, due to the aging of the population. Aging workforce creates challenges for health care organizations, however, it also has several advantages that hospitals could exploit. The implications of the aging workforce on health care organizations are two-fold. First, aging population would need to receive training on new technologies and computer applications. Therefore, it is crucial for health care organizations to create strategies that support and accommodate the changing needs of older employees, mainly women from the baby boomer generation. These strategies include making adjustments at the workplace to accommodate changing abilities of older workers. Health care workplace strategies can be supported by conducting a workforce assessment, creating a disability management strategy, conducting changes to the work environment, re-training older employees do jobs that are more suitable for them, Utilizing a team-oriented approach within health care units would also help retain knowledge. When health care organizations lose older workers due to retirement or career change, due to the lack of suitable positions offered, the unit does not only lose workforce, but also an asset of knowledge, which would be hard to replace. Involving older generation health care workers in the training of new nurses and carers would help health care providers retain organizational assets, improve shared knowledge within the unit, and create more value for the society, as well as individual patients. and encouraging the use of productivity enhancement tools.
According to Sweet et al. (2010, p. 3), “In comparison to other sectors, the health care and social assistance sector’s demographic profile is disproportionately composed of older workers and women”. This calls for a unique approach towards employee training, retention, and collaboration within teams. While the aging workforce offers a tremendous amount of skills and expertise for health care units, employees also have several challenges that need to be addressed by the organization. New technologies are regularly introduced in health care, and many of the older employees find it challenging to learn new computer systems. Therefore, those who are looking to carry on working in health care would need increased support and additional training. While employee training programs are constrained by the budget of the organization, collaboration between health care workers from different generations would reduce the cost, and create a shared knowledge that would provide increased value for patients and team members alike. The author of the current paper is attempting to prove that improving collaboration within health care units, involving older workers in training of newly graduated nurses would benefit all stakeholders, and help the organization maintain and grow its shared asset of knowledge and expertise. Many health care organizations are now also recognizing that they must retain older employees through offering flexible work patterns, semi-retirement options, as well as workplace adjustments.
Maintaining the knowledge and skill set of health care facilities can create a long term organizational asset that will benefit all stakeholders: patients, the government, and workers alike.
Impact of Aging Workforce on Health Care Units
There are many different aspects of the aging workforce in the United States. For example, it is expected that by 2050, there will be 19.6 million American workers, aged 65 years or older. By 2016, it is expected that a third of the American workforce will be 50 years of age or older, gradually increasing to encompass 115 million workers by the end of 2020. Furthermore, it is expected that those in the workforce aged 65 years old or older will increase by 75% in comparison to those workers aged 25 to 54, growing by 2% (Harrington & Heidkamp, 2013; Heidkamp, Mabe, & DeGraaf, 2012). Industry specific trends are alarming. In fact, “by 2020, nearly half of all registered nurses will reach traditional retirement age” (Harrington & Heidkamp, 2013, p. 13). In 2007, the number of physicians 60 years old or older accounted for a quarter of all physicians. Alarmingly, dentistry is one of the hardest hit sectors of the health care industry because, as of 2001, over 80% of dentists were older than 45 years of age (Harrington & Heidkamp, 2013; Institute of Medicine of the National Academies, 2008). These trends suggest that challenges will continue to mount. In 2011, 22 percent of health care and social assistance workers were aged over 65 (Harrington & Heidkamp, p. 13, Table N-13).
The workforce of the health care industry is already older than that found in other sectors. Based on the initiatives of the Affordable Care Act, health care organizations find themselves having to “maintain an adequate supply of skilled workers at all levels while meeting an increase demand for high-quality health care services” (Harrington & Heidkamp, 2013). It is expected that by 2030, it will be necessary to have an “extra 3.5 million formal health care providers just to maintain the existing ratio of providers to the total population, representing a 35% increase from current levels” (Harrington & Heidkamp, 2013; Institute of Medicine of the National Academies, 2008). This will require the development of new strategies in order to retain older, more experienced workers and to entice younger trainees. However, training new nurses is not an adequate solution, as newly qualified workforce would not have the necessary experience that will provide the same quality of care for patients as older generations.
It is noted that “the demographic trend has been exacerbated by the relentless focus on cost reduction that has become the business norm. In their zeal to become lean, organizations continue to have round after round of layoffs – without realizing that in just a few years they may confront severe labor shortages or, if they have shed mostly younger workers, be left with a relatively old workforce” (Strack, Baier, & Fahlander, 2008). These considerations are extremely alarming, because if older workers are leaving, there is no opportunity to transfer knowledge, which could make a health care organization less effective.
Consequences of Retiring Workforce
The retirement of older, more experienced health care staff does not only cause shortage of staff, it also creates a shortage of skills and experience. In reality, the shortage causes the loss of “skills, knowledge, experience, and [professional] relationships” (Dychtwald et al., 2004). Replacing health care workers and training new employees is a method that is less cost-effective than retaining those who are willing to continue working after retirement, and allowing them flexible, part time working patterns. Further, there is a large number of older nurses who leave the profession because they find their role challenging. These health care professionals, however, should not be lost: they could still provide value for health care organizations.
It is important that businesses “have employees who reflect the ethnic, gender, and age composition” of the customer base (Dychtwald et al., 2004). This is especially vital since the aging workforce is composed of baby boomers, who “will be the most financially powerful generation of mature consumers ever; today’s mature adults control more than $7 trillion in wealth in the United States – 70% of the total” (Dychtwald et al., 2004). Further, it is believed that through shared experiences, older health care workers can relate to elderly patients’ problems, and understand their motivations, values, improving collaboration. Generation gap, provided that health care organizations allow baby boomers to retire or change professions would create a real problem in health care. Organizations that “market to an aging population [and] attract and employ older workers” (Dychtwald et al., 2004).
According to Dychtwald et al., “two-thirds of U.S. employers do not actively recruit older workers; more than half do not actively attempt to retain key ones; 80% do not offer any special provisions to appeal to the concerns of mature workers; and 60% do not account for workforce aging in their long-term business plans” (Dychtwald et al., 2004). As a result, the shortage of employees across all industries, and in particular in health care will increase if retention programs are not implemented. Considering that “most baby boomers want to continue working – and they may need to, for financial reasons”, (Dychtwald et al., 2004),.retention of workers needs to be planned, and health care organizations need to develop effective strategies to meet the needs of this population.
There are concerns that skill shortages can negatively impact organizational growth and innovation. Many companies also believe that the skill shortages have negatively impacted productivity and quality (DeLong, 2014). It is also important to consider that “making misguided assumptions about the huge generation now approaching retirement will be very costly if critical capabilities are at stake” (DeLong, 2014). By analyzing the impact of retirement, there are typically four different types of scenarios that can develop. The first one notes that the aging workforce impacts essential capabilities. With this scenario, there needs to be special consideration paid to the relationship between older and younger workers (DeLong, 2014). Thus, older workers can help resolve the shortage, especially if their skills are utilized effectively. While some employees might believe that their skills are no longer needed, involving them in training of new workers, and team initiatives would increase their motivation to stay within the organization. The second scenario notes that the skills shortage is not related to the aging workforce. With this scenario, there is a gap due to the technology boom (DeLong, 2014). The third scenario notes that there are expected to be issues related to the aging workforce, but these issues are not confirmed. Within this scenario, “the problem looming [and] the threat is vague” (DeLong, 2014). The final scenario notes that the risks related to the aging workforce are unknown, which is a risky strategy.
Strategies to Retain an Aging Workforce
One of the most important strategies that health care organizations can adopt is accommodating the changing abilities of the workforce, while utilizing their experience and skills. This can help retain older employees, by making them feel respected and valued. It is well known that the aging process commonly causes “a disability or other age-related health condition that may reduce [their] functional capacity and affect [their] ability to remain in the workforce” (Heidkamp et al., 2012). Effective strategies need to be adopted by health care organizations to accommodate the needs of older workers, and increasing the level of collaboration between different generations. The first step should be to reassure workers of their valued status within the organization, and show respect, while making sure that collaboration programs between new and experienced nurses are created on the organizational and team level.
The most effective strategies for retaining and utilizing the skills of older workers are listed by the report created by The Sloan Center on Aging & Work (2012). Some of these strategies could be easily implemented in health care organizations, such as job transfer opportunities, phased retirement, offering flexible and part-time positions, as well as involvement in succession planning and training.
The above described strategies utilized by health care organizations can not only improve employee retention, but also reduce the cost of human resources, create better relationships within teams, and enhance collaboration. It is, however, equally important to “include efforts to reduce declines in work performance resulting from age-related physical, cognitive, or sensory disabilities” (Harrington & Heidkamp, 2013; Tishman, Van Looy, & Bruyère, 2012). By implementing the above described strategies, health care organizations can prevent worker shortages, and meet the needs of their employees, as well as patients.
It is noted that a strong strategy for retaining the aging workforce should include provisions to “recognize and address an employee’s challenges outside of work” (Harrington & Heidkamp, 2013; Sweet, Pitt-Catsouphes, Besen, Hovhannisyan, & Pasha, 2010). These strategies could increase commitment, motivation, and productivity of older workers at the same time.
One of the most powerful strategies that organizations can adopt is creating and improving team-oriented collaboration within units. This way, older workers would be able to “transfer their institutional knowledge to younger workers while at the same time sharing tasks that may be more difficult for older workers to perform on their own” (Harrington & Heidkamp, 2013; Sweet et al., 2010). Strategies focused on easing physical demands through workplace adjustments and alternative roles offered are also as crucial. Implementing “powerful tools that have been used to increase the productivity of aging nurses [have included] magnifying glasses to read and ‘talking’ blood pressure machines that read measurements in an audio output” (Harrington & Heidkamp, 2013). Other ways that increase workplace flexibility are weekend-only work, work-at-home opportunities, seasonal work, reduced schedules without the loss of benefits, allowance of part time work and drawing on pensions, and returning to the company within a particular time frame post-retirement without losing benefits (Harrington & Heidkamp, 2013; Tishman et al., 2012). Further, in order to fully utilize the knowledge of older, experienced staff, health care organizations could also employ retired or semi-retired workers as consultants.
The first step is workforce assessment. This allows health care organizations to “map the demographics of their current workforce, identify current and projected skills gaps, plan for leadership succession, and facilitate the transfer of knowledge from their mature workers to entry-level hires” (Harrington & Heidkamp, 2013). The second step involves considering a disability management strategy. This will decrease issues relating to work performance issues. The third step involves considering changes to the physical organization, such as ergonomic improvements. The goal of these strategies is to “ease the physical burdens [through] solutions, such as installing bed lifts [and categorically] grouping patients and supplies together” (Harrington & Heidkamp, 2013). The fourth step involves utilizing a team-oriented approach, emphasizing different skills and abilities. This strategy can “encourage recruiting and retaining mature workers” through workplace flexibility (Harrington & Heidkamp, 2013). The fourth step also includes techniques towards knowledge transfer. This can be done through peer mentoring and job shadowing. In fact, one newly developed model suggests that “younger workers could assist older workers on integrating new technology into bedside nursing, while older workers could help train younger workers, passing along lessons from their years of experience” (Harrington & Heidkamp, 2013; Institute of Medicine of the National Academies, 2008). The fifth step includes encouraging the use of productivity enhancement tools, which are considered to be reasonable accommodations by the Americans with Disabilities Act, which sheds positive light on these tools (Harrington & Heidkamp, 2013). The final step includes educating hiring managers and supervisors as to what reasonable accommodation means and how these accommodations can be effective, as well as ways to “take advantage of existing federal and state programs that provide support for job accommodations, such as the resources of the ODEP-funded Job Accommodation Network or state vocational rehabilitation agencies” (Harrington & Heidkamp, 2013). These steps can counteract the “severe shortage of talented workers” (Dychtwald, Erickson, & Morison, 2004). Based on this information, it is understood that health care organizations have numerous opportunities to prevent employee shortages. However, the consequences of these shortages are enormous.
In a radical move, it is suggested that ‘retirement’ is outdated. In reality, ‘workplace flexibility’ needs to be addressed in an effective manner to meet the needs of various employees. Ultimately, workplace flexibility can benefit both employers and employees (Dychtwald et al., 2004). This can be done in numerous ways. One positive way is to “create a culture that honors experience” (Dychtwald et al., 2004). This involves decreasing the level of bias towards older workers. This needs to begin in recruitment and training. Thus, companies need to encourage older employees to ask for further training. Thus, “mature workers will be attracted to a culture that values their experience and capabilities – an environment that can take some time and effort to build” (Dychtwald et al., 2004). Another way to meet the needs of these employees is to offer flexible work. Thus, staying employed with a particular organization must be more attractive than leaving. As a result, companies need to be aware that “many baby boomers have a direct and compelling need for flexibility to accommodate multiple commitments, such as caring for children and elderly parents at the same time” (Dychtwald et al., 2004). A third option is flexible retirement. For this option, “employers would offer flexible work, compensation, pension and benefits arrangements, subject to sensible and straightforward tests of fairness and merit” (Dychtwald et al., 2004). Thus, options allow employers to meet the needs of their employees more effectively.
It is well known that the aging workforce has tremendous skills and expertise to offer to their organization due to their experience obtained during doing the job. Despite the benefits, there are numerous negative implications of an aging workforce on health care organizations. Then main task of health care providers and managers is to create effective strategies to retain experienced workforce, while making sure that their knowledge is transferred and shared throughout the organization. Reducing the negative impact of an aging workforce, and fully utilizing its benefits is a challenging task, and requires planning, detailed assessment, and the involvement of human resource managers.
Certain strategies need to be in place to retain an aging workforce, and help them achieve a higher level of job satisfaction, which would, in turn, result in greater level of motivation and commitment. One of the most important strategies is to accommodate the changing abilities, preferences, and approaches of the aging workforce. Technological challenges of older generation could be tackled through work-related skills training programs.
Other strategies are developed through assessments relating to demographic information, available skills, and knowledge transfer issues, which consider how the entire organization will be affected through retirement. The most common strategy utilized by health care organizations, according to The Sloan Center on Aging & Work (2012) workplace adjustments and training, which can reduce productivity issues. Other commonly utilized strategies are those that address issues related to the changing needs of the workforce are semi-retirement, flexible working, reduced hours, alternative positions, and involvement in training programs as a consultant.
An aging workforce does not have to reduce the efficiency of the organization. There is a need to develop ways to prepare a strategy to deal with the challenges of an aging workforce, while fully utilizing their knowledge and skills. This way, older employees can be retained, allowing them to offer skills knowledge for the future leaders of the world. Given that the strategies are well outlined, older health care workers can make a positive impact on the future of the organization, and positively impact performance, asset retention, while helping the unit preserve the organization’s values and traditions for long years to come.
DeLong, D. (2014). Is the Aging Workforce Really Creating Your Skill Shortages? Retrieved from https://hbr.org/2014/01/is-the-aging-workforce-really-creating-your-skill-shortages
Dychtwald, K., Erickson, T. J., & Morison, B. (2004). It’s Time to Retire Retirement. Retrieved from https://hbr.org/2004/03/its-time-to-retire-retirement
Harrington, L., & Heidkamp, M. (2013). The Aging Workforce: Challenges for the Health Care Industry Workforce. New Brunswick, New Jersey: NTAR Leadership Center.
Heidkamp, M., Mabe, W., & DeGraaf, B. (2012). The public workforce system: Serving older job seekers and the disability implications of an aging workforce. New Brunswick, New Jersey: NTAR Leadership Center.
Institute of Medicine of the National Academies. (2008). Retooling for an aging America: Building the health care workforce. Washington DC: The National Academies Press.
Strack, R., Baier, J., & Fahlander, A. (2008). Managing Demographic Risk. Retrieved from https://hbr.org/2008/02/managing-demographic-risk
Sweet, S., Pitt-Catsouphes, M., Besen, E., Hovhannisyan, S., & Pasha, F. (2010). Talent pressures and the aging workforce: Responsive action steps for the health care and social assistance sector. Boston, MA: Sloan Center on Aging & Work.
Tishman, F., Van Looy, S., & Bruyère, S. (2012). Employer strategies for responding to an aging workforce. New Brunswick, New Jersey: NTAR Leadership Center
The Sloan Center on Aging & Work (2012) Flex strategies to attract, engage, & retain older workers. Innovative Practices. Executive Case Report No. 5. Retrieved from http://www.bc.edu/content/dam/files/research_sites/agingandwork/pdf/publications/flex_case.pdf
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