As workforce ages, surprising degree of generational harmony, not conflict, exists in the workplace

Other challenges ahead for aging workforce, younger colleagues and their employers

Thursday, September 13, 2012

“AMERICA’S AGING WORKFORCE: A FAIRFAX COUNTY EDA SYMPOSIUM” SET FOR SEPT. 28

Despite a demographic shift that is making the nation’s workforce older, a national survey commissioned by the Fairfax County Economic Development Authority (FCEDA) finds that working Americans from different generations – Baby Boomers and their Gen X and Millennial counterparts – value each other in the workplace to a surprisingly high degree.

Conducted by Ipsos Public Affairs, the national survey of almost 2,000 rank-and-file employees and business decision-makers reveals a striking consensus among older and younger workers that the best workforce contains representation from across generations. On September 28 the FCEDA is hosting “America’s Aging Workforce: A Fairfax County EDA Symposium” to explore how employers are managing the demographic shifts in the workplace. 

“The way we tend to discuss generational difference in the workplace focuses on just that – our differences – and the issues they present for employers,” said Gerald L. Gordon, Ph.D., president and CEO of the FCEDA. “This survey surprised us showing that a majority of employees, regardless of age or station, believes that each generation is valuable in its own right.”

Gordon continued, “While the results of this survey provide encouraging news with respect to many of the cultural issues surrounding this demographic shift, the fact remains that employers will need to address – sooner than later –a broad array of issues surrounding our aging workforce, including handling different expectations among older and younger workers, changes in benefits packages, succession planning, physical changes in the workspace and developing new products.”

About 78 million “Baby Boomers” were born between 1946 and 1964, according to the U.S. Census. Every day, 10,000 Baby Boomers turn 50 years old, according to Matt Thornhill and John Martin of the Boomer Project. This rapidly shifting change in the American demographic landscape is also reflected in the workforce. And, according to the Boomer Project, it’s not easy to predict when Baby Boomers will retire… if ever.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) has also noted the shifting demographics of America’s workforce. According to the BLS, about 39 million Baby Boomers will be working in 2018 and make up 23.8 percent of the workforce. That’s up from the 12.4 percent of the U.S. workforce that was 55+ in 1998.

Most of the people surveyed believe that their company’s leadership is prepared for an aging workforce, with more managers (70 percent) than rank-and-file workers (59 percent) thinking that is the case. Among the different generations, more younger employees (67 percent) than older employees (59 percent) thought their company was prepared.

More than nine out of 10 of those surveyed agreed with the statement: “the best workforce is one that has a good contingent of younger and older workers,” with 92 percent of employees aged 18-34 and 95 percent of employees aged 55+ concurring.

When asked if one group – older or younger workers – was more valuable to the workplace than another, more than two-thirds (69 percent) of employees aged 18-34 and three-quarters (78 percent) of employees aged 55+ said that both were equally valuable in their own right. Employees aged 35-54 also agreed (77 percent).

Both workers and their managers (business decision makers) agree that no amount of enthusiasm can replace experience in the workplace. Even younger employees, who arguably can contribute enthusiasm more readily than experience, agree (62 percent) with the statement. Middle-aged (72 percent) and older employees (72 percent) are, perhaps understandably, in even greater agreement.

There was inter-generational consensus as well that experienced employees also are an asset to a company. Younger employees agree only slightly less readily (89 percent) than older employees (97 percent).

Notably, almost one in five older employees (22 percent) conceded that the best ideas at work typically come from younger employees. Overall, 32 percent of American workers believe that the best ideas at work typically come from younger workers and their managers are split – 51 percent agree and 49 percent disagree with the statement.

Some age stereotypes persist. Most managers and workers agree that, in general, older workers are more resistant to change in the workplace. Younger employees are much more likely (80 percent) to think so than their middle-aged (71 percent) and older (62 percent) colleagues.

A majority of business-decision makers (71 percent) and regular workers (61 percent) agree that it’s tougher being a young working professional now than it was a generation ago. 

About Fairfax County
Time magazine called Fairfax County, just outside Washington, D.C., “one of the great economic success stories of our time.” Business growth helps Fairfax County fund the nation’s top-rated school system and public services that contribute to the quality of life of residents. Fairfax County offers businesses a state-of-the-art telecommunications infrastructure, access to global markets through Washington Dulles International Airport and a well-educated workforce.

About the FCEDA
The Fairfax County Economic Development Authority promotes Fairfax County as a business and technology center. The FCEDA offers site location and business development assistance, and connections with county and state government agencies, to help companies locate and expand in Fairfax County. In addition to its headquarters in Tysons Corner, Fairfax County’s largest business district, the FCEDA maintains marketing offices in six important global business centers: Bangalore, Munich, London, Los Angeles, Seoul and Tel Aviv.

About “America’s Aging Workforce: A Fairfax County EDA Symposium”
On September 28, the FCEDA is presenting “America’s Aging Workforce: A Fairfax County EDA Symposium,” which will explore how companies and organizations are handling the needs of older employees, balancing those needs with the needs to cultivate younger workers, and even changing services and products to sell to an aging clientele. This event for corporate and human resource executives will be held at Capital One headquarters: 1680 Capital One Drive, Tysons Corner, Virginia 22102. Sponsors are the FCEDA, Capital One, the Fairfax County Chamber of Commerce and the Community Foundation for Northern Virginia. Learn more and register at www.americasagingworkforce.com.

Survey Methodology
These are some of the findings of an Ipsos poll conducted June 26 to July 6, 2012, on behalf of the Fairfax County Economic Development Authority.  For the survey, a sample of 1,468 employed Americans not working in a business decision-making authority capacity, and a sample of 509 business-decision makers was interviewed online, via Ipsos’ I-Say Panel. A probability sample of this size, with a 100 percent response rate, would yield a margin of error that is considered accurate to within ±4.4 percentage points, 19 times out of 20, of what they would have been had the entire population of workers and business decision makers in the U.S. been polled, and +/- 2.5 percentage points for the population of working Americans. The margin of error will be larger within regions and for other sub-groupings of the survey population. These data were weighted to ensure the sample’s regional and age/gender composition reflects that of the actual U.S. population according to data from the U.S. Census Bureau.