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What's in a Number?

Mary Beth Orminston
  • Oct 25, 2017
  • 3 minute read

Find out more about how age is impacting the workforce


Once upon a time, 65 was the magic number for those looking to retire.

It was a number that many generations revered and diligently saved for and worked toward. However, new numbers from the Pew Research Center indicate that a proportion of American workers 65 and older who are selecting to work full and part-time has increased. As of May 2016, the number has grown to 18.8 percent, up from 12.8 percent in 2000.

What do these numbers mean to the employment world? These numbers indicate that people are working longer into what was once thought of as their “retirement years.” Workers who once planned on retiring perhaps as early as 55 or 60 are staying in the workforce longer. 

The result is that today’s workforce now includes a greater range of age groups, as much as four generations of workers who grew up in vastly different times, experiences and cultures. This worker diversity provides not only challenges but opportunities in our current employment environment.


The aging process brings to the work culture challenges on safety, especially those jobs which are manual labor or highly physical.  Understanding, training and support for a workforce that might need to be more flexible so as to minimize the likelihood of injury will need to be considered. The question that needs to be asked is: Can our existing employment roles be adjusted to better suit peoples changing abilities and needs?

Most of our younger workforce has a comfort level with technology. The Millennials and Generation X’s grew up and have a higher comfort level with technology, as digital technology has been a part of their daily life. We have learned, however, that once older people adopt technologies, they often become savvy users. In diverse environments where people of varying ages work and have different levels of technology comprehension, small work groups have proven to be beneficial. In this environment, everyone brings something to the table and everyone is valued.

If we think technology has changed, so has our communication. Effective communication cuts deeper than pop-culture or slang. We need to consider educational experiences and life learning experiences, and then factor in that everyone receives information differently. We see in the younger worker the desire to receive information immediately and receive only information that is pertinent for a specific job or task. Older workers tend to learn and communicate differently, as they are more experienced with one-directional forms of communications such as a lecture speaker, video or even reading a newspaper.

But all is not lost!  Research is telling us that the more we put people together who are different and let them learn from each other, the easier it becomes. Employers are learning this can be “the best of both worlds.” Pairing employees who have institutional knowledge with employees who see things differently can be very powerful.

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