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Study: U.S. Businesses Not Prepared for Booming Retirement

Ambivalent Employees More Creative, Study Sugg

More than a quarter of U.S. businesses are unprepared for the fact that millions of baby boomers will retire in the coming decade and create a worker shortage and a deficit in expertise and talent, a new national study reports.

The aging American workforce could catch organizations off guard, especially if they fail to relax their commitment to the 40-hour work week, according to the National Study of Business Strategy and Workforce Development, which collected data for the report from 578 organizations from across the nation.

"Companies that do not plan for this aging workforce may find themselves suddenly faced with a loss of labor, experience and expertise that will be difficult to offset, given the relatively small pool of new workers and the competition for new talent likely to result from so many companies facing the same problem," said Mick Smyer, co-director of the Boston College Center on Aging and Work, which conducted the study.

Key findings from the poll of organizations primarily in the retail, manufacturing, healthcare and social assistance sectors include:

  • Only 37 percent of employers had strategies to encourage older workers to stay past traditional retirement age, despite the fact that late career employees are more loyal and reliable and have higher skill levels, stronger professional networks and stronger work ethics.
  • Most employers (60 percent) said that recruitment is already a significant human relations problem.
  • Nearly half (40 percent) said that management skills are already in short supply in their organizations.
  • Only a third of the organizations reported that their organizations had made at least moderate projections about the retirement rates of their workers.

Flexibility resonates with older workers, said Marcie Pitt-Catsouphes, also co-director of the Center on Aging and Work. Most older workers who would like to work past traditional retirement age also want to avoid the 8-hour day/5-day a week schedule, she said.

"Employers who fail to consider flexible work options may be missing important opportunities to enhance both their business performance and their employees' engagement," Pitt-Catsouphes said.

She recommended that employers and organizations also think about using older workers who postpone full-time retirement to address hiring challenges and that supervisors understand the importance of flexible work options both to the business and to employee engagement.

Many European nations reportedly already are facing the challenge of early retirements, declining fertility rates and a resulting paucity of competent workers.

Previous studies of the labor market in the United States and other developed nations indicate that the supply of 35-44 year-olds is shrinking, and labor economists project that the number of U.S. workers ages 45-54 will drop by 10 percent by 2012. Similarly, the number of workers ages 44-64 is projected to increase 58 percent and of workers ages 65 years and older to increase by 40 percent by 2012.

Robin Lloyd was a senior editor at and Live Science from 2007 to 2009. She holds a B.A. degree in sociology from Smith College and a Ph.D. and M.A. degree in sociology from the University of California at Santa Barbara.