In the next decade or so, the U.S. workplace will be transformed with an explosion of flexible work schedules and a host of technologies that will make work tasks easier.
What will cause these changes? A boatload of middle-aged workers.
By 2020, there will be more 55-plus workers grinding away than at any other time in our history. As a result, labor experts foresee a rush by the nation?s businesses to accommodate the aging workforce.
Generational differences in the workplace are expected to rise, there will be unprecedented shortages in many industries as large proportions of the work force retires, and we may also see more workers getting sick on the job, with a possible rise in strokes and heart attacks as they age.
In 2005, about 24 million or 17 percent of all adult U.S. workers were over 55, compared with a projected 38 million or 24 percent by the year 2017, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The 65-plus work force will almost double to 10 million, or 6.4 percent of the total, in 10 years; and those toiling away at age 75 and over will make up about 1.2 percent of the workforce, or 2 million strong.
About 69 percent of baby boomers anticipate working past traditional retirement age, and money and health care are the top reasons.
This aging work force will provide the impetus for companies to adopt:
More vacation time
Opportunities to work out of different company locations - enabling living up North in the summer months and in Florida or Arizona during the winter.
Besides workplace flexibility, job-enhancing technologies of all types are expected to pop up in most industries, including:
Large screen computers for those with diminishing eyesight
Devices to help those who are hard of hearing
More lifting devices in the healthcare and hospitalities industries
Motorized carts to help people get around in large spaces
Older workers may also be in a position to demand better salaries and benefits if their skills are in professions that are expected to have serious labor shortages. Some of those industries, include:
There will also be a general shortage of skilled software engineers.
Laws regarding caps on how much you can earn a year if you are receiving Social Security may be changed.
Another possible change in legislation could include employers covering a portion of health insurance coverage even though an employee is already covered under Medicare.
Wellness and fitness programs targeted toward older workers will become a mainstay, and you can expect to see perks like onsite prescription drugs.
On the negative side is the impending labor shortage in all the industries mentioned above, but especially in healthcare. It is a double whammy for the nation because as the population ages, people will need more health care at a time when a huge number of older health care workers will be looking to retire.
And as American consumers only intensify their appetites for more electricity, few younger workers are looking to find jobs at utilities to replace the older work force.
Younger workers will be reaping the benefits of a more flexible workplace, but overall companies will be looking to groom them for leadership positions as baby boomers leave. But that will mean gettingextra training and studying at night so they can do their jobs during the day but still prepare to take on more responsibilities.
Workers under 30 will be pressed into service they would have had to wait 10 years for. Whether that will cause problems in terms of quality and workplace safety.
There also could be growing tensions between young and oldworkers as we see a rise in the number of younger managers. Adding to the tension will be a large group of mature workers who may resent the fact that they're still toiling away because they can't afford to stay home. Younger workers could begin to resent their older counterparts if corporations don't treat the groups similarly.
Another concern is the diminishing health of workers as they age, even though Americans are living longer and healthier than ever before. No one knows how they will fare if they are forced to keep punching a clock into their late 60s and 70s.
"Certainly, in regard to sudden cardiac arrest and stroke, one risk factor is increasing age," says Donald Wright, who oversees the office of occupational medicine for the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. While he stresses that a worker at any age can experience such illnesses, he has encouraged companies across the country to adopt automated external defibrillator programs. He expects to see more of these devices that restore normal heart rhythms in cardiac arrest victims being used at companies in the next five years.
"We would hope proactive employers who really value the work and the talent senior workers bring to workplace would acknowledge some of potential limitations these individual have," he adds.