Ageing and the Accommodating Workplace: A Survey of Employer Practice

Lynzee Head

Baby boomers (people born between 1946 and 1964) represent a large “bulge” in U.S. demographic figures. As this population segment begins to reach the age of retirement, a number of them will develop health conditions, functional limitations or disabilities that could make working challenging, if not difficult. This also presents a challenge (or opportunity) for employers; a challenge in ensuring that the workplace is able to accommodate a variety of individual needs, an opportunity in rethink and redesigning the workplace so that it is more universally accessible to a wide range of employees. There is an increasing need to provide workplace accommodations for older workers to 1) keep them in the workplace, and retain the valuable skill sets they have acquired over their many years of work experience, 2) accommodate the increasing influx of part-time and seasonal older employees who might need accommodations on a cyclical basis; and 3) modify accommodations already in use by employees with disabilities as they age. Policies and practices – both corporate and federal - shaped over the course of the next few decades could allow aging workers to remain a valuable part of the U.S. economy. Given these considerations, it is useful from a policy standpoint to determine the degree to which employers are planning for this significant change. For instance, are employers currently implementing (or planning) policies to accommodate aging workers, in the same manner to which they accommodate people with disabilities? This paper presents the initial results of a survey of a targeted sample of Fortune 500 hundred companies in the key business sectors forecast to have the largest growth in employment during the next decade. The survey sample will consist of approximately 30 Fortune 500 HR executives and survey participants who will be interviewed by telephone as to the current state of their policies regarding older workers - along with the future plans of employers to attract/accommodate this population.

Presentation Slides:
Slides 1-13

Lynzee Head, M.S. is a Research Scientist in the Office of Technology Policy and Programs at GCATT. Ms. Head conducts policy research and analysis for the Rehabilitation Engineering Research Center (RERC) on Mobile Wireless Technologies for Persons with Disabilities (Wireless RERC) and the RERC on Workplace Accommodations (Workplace RERC). She is the editor of the Wireless RERC's Technology and Disability Policy Highlights as well as the Workplace RERC's Workplace Accommodation Policy Highlights. Ms. Head has worked as a contractor for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's Epidemiology Programming Office. Her current research interests include urban development and public health, employment of and workplace accommodations for aging workers and universal design in the built environment. Ms. Head earned a M.S. in Public Policy from the Georgia Institute of Technology and graduated with honors from Birmingham-Southern College with a B.S. in Biology.

Presentation from the 'Workplace Accommodations: State of the Science' conference, September 15-16, 2005, Atlanta, GA