Ergonomics done right.®
September 25th, 2008

Optimizing an Aging Workforce: Q&A

Recently, we hosted a webinar on The Future of Manufacturing: Optimizing an Aging Workforce (Click HERE to download a recording). The discussion was led by our CEO, Franz Schneider.

Due to limitations on time, we weren’t able to get to all of the questions. Instead of answering them privately, we thought it would be a good idea to share these thoughts with all of you. Over the next week, we’ll post a number of questions and our answers.

Q: My experience with an older workforce suggests that older workers lack the drive and initiative in going the extra mile, showing strong enthusiasm, determination, or idea generation as perhaps it is now time to "coast". I have often wondered if this is due to older employees simply "giving up" because opportunities for recognition and greater responsibilities are fewer, if most feel that the dividends are not worth the effort or ??? What can be done to keep attitudes up and keep older employees motivated?

A: I must respond that your experience is unique. Most employers find, and studies of the topic report, that workers over 45 are the most reliable, most productive, most quality conscious and most company oriented when compared to workers under 45. Workers over 45 also have less work disturbances and absenteeism due to family issues because for many, the child rearing tasks are behind them.

Certainly, one can hypothesize dozens of reasons why a worker can be perceived as giving up, but it is our experience that due to the understanding that older workers have of their jobs and how a company runs, they are often the source for the best ideas during a kaizen event.

These issues are in many ways very unique to the US. In Japan and many EU countries where the journeyman/apprentice or mentor model is well developed in industry, wisdom is respected. Although age does not beget wisdom instantly, it is difficult to live a half century and not be smarter than when you started. One very good strategy is to formalize the pairing of new employees with older workers (exactly the way Toyota does) so that the older worker can share their experience and knowledge. This accelerates the on-boarding of the new employee and gives the older/experienced worker a sense of pride and accomplishment.

Have a question? Post it here in the comments or email us at