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One in three workers works outside of a typical office environment. By generation, 35% of Gen Y workers report they work remotely, Gen X numbers 30%, and Boomers report 30%. Three out of four teleworkers are men, and not likely to be a parent (survey by worklifefit.com)
Older workers with earnings boost payments into Social Security, and they spend on all kinds of things from meals out to clothing and vacations. All benefit the economy. The early boomers have grown children, either in college or out, grandkids, and some with great-grandkids. Many are in the saving mode for retirement. With the freedom of empty nests, many have discretionary income that they want to spend – on home improvements, nesting for retirement, and social events.
A recent survey found that US employees, saving for retirement in 401(k) plans, are not saving more for future retirement. They are not seeing an improved economy and are hesitant or unable to give up their access to immediate cash to save for the future. They worry about future bills and are planning to work longer (2013 Mercer Workplace Survey)
From Silents to Millennials, each working generation has different as ideas, values, expectations and experiences. These differences can complement and balance one another to create a good work environment.
You may be shocked to learn that an “older worker” can be defined as someone starting at the age of 40. As many Boomers work into their 70s, and generations following will work longer as well, the math will tell you that we spend the majority of our life working for a living. Traditional “retirement” is being shifted and redefined.
What are the numbers of older adults? The Census projects that one in five Americans will be 65 or older between 2015 and 2040. The number of older adult workers continues to increase. The Sloan Center on Aging & Work at Boston College says that by 2019, workers 55 and older will comprise 25 percent of the workforce. The Urban Institute predicts that workers 50 years and older will account for 35 percent of the labor force by 2019.
Currently, there are four generations in the workforce (1-4 below) – here’s a look at the living generations:
|Birth Years||% of U.S. population|
|Generation Z, iGen||2000-present||fast approaching working age|
|Generation Y, Millennials||1981-2000||22%||52.0 million|
|Generation X||1965-1980||28%||88.5 million|
|Baby Boomers||1946-1964||33%||65.6 million|
|WWII, Silent Generation||1928-1945||14%||26.2 million|
|retired: G.I., Greatest||1901-1928||3%||4.5 million|
Older workers bring a wealth of knowledge and experience to the table. Here is a list of a few of their characteristics:
Joint health and flexibility, as we age, can be a challenge due to many factors. Playing sports and overuse of joints causing arthritis can create joint discomfort – back, neck, knees, hips and shoulders. Sitting at a desk all day is not healthy and has been suggested can lead to obesity.
During a 3-year study, workers that sat more than 11 hours each day were 50% more likely to die than those who sat between 4-8 hours a day. Leading health advocates recommend standing for just 2 out of every 30 minutes, to improve long term health. Creating work spaces that offer choices in sitting and standing adds to the health benefit of workers. Many products are now available, such as desks that can be easily manipulated to both sit and stand positions, to alter how a person works throughout the day. Standing burns calories. Standing 15 minutes out of every hour may increase health benefits including improved blood flow and circulation.
Other ways to reduce sitting at a desk include stand-up meetings that offer a decrease in the amount of meeting time – definitely a plus for people that spend a great deal of time a week in meetings. Periodically getting up and walking around also clears the brain and allows for better circulation. For those that sit for long periods of time, try these 7 easy stretches:
A few changes or additions at work can create a more productive and healthy workplace for everyone.
How do you know if your work area is a good fit for you? If you experience neck strain, back strain, eye strain, headaches, wrist or shoulder pain, lower back aches, or knee strain, then the answer is NO.
According to a 2013 report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, “musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs), commonly known as ergonomic injuries, accounted for 34 percent of all workplace injuries and illnesses requiring days away from work in 2012.” (1)
Ergonomics is very important for the health of all workers. [Defined: an applied science concerned with designing and arranging things people use so that the people and things interact most efficiently and safely – called also biotechnology, human engineering, human factors (Merriam-Webster)]. If the tools for doing a job are designed and specified properly, musculoskeletal disorders can be prevented, such as affecting the neck, upper extremities and lower back – which are the leading cause of lost workday injury and illness (OSHA.gov).
If you work at a computer, there are several simple rules to follow:
If you lift items at work, follow these rules (2):
Hearing loss can occur at any age and for many reasons. For most, hearing loss begins around the age of 40 – at first, barely noticeable then gradually increasing.
First lost is the higher frequencies resulting in a mixing of conversation and background noise. We also lose the ability to distinguish low-volume sound. An estimated 30 million people in the U.S. have some degree of hearing impairment, and typically more men than women.
Noise reduction can be accomplished in office spaces by using soft materials that absorb sound. Lower ceilings and less glass can help reduce sound movement. Utilizing a sound-masking system (white noise) will reduce noticeable conversations and add privacy. In environments with loud sounds, such as machinery, ear plugs or earphones are a must to protect from damage to hearing. There are also products that are noise canceling. They cancel ambient sounds using a special kind of electronic setup using an active noise canceling technique.
Quite popular among the 30 and younger are personal music players. Professor Peter Rabinowitz from Yale University School of Medicine says that personal music devices, such as MP3 players, can generate levels of sound at the ear in excess of 120 decibels, similar in intensity to a jet engine, especially when used with earphones that insert into the ear canal (1). Excessive volume in car stereos can contribute to damaging hearing. Over time, lawn mowing and other loud continuous yard devices also contribute to hearing loss. Protecting our hearing is important for people of all ages.
Today, we are living longer and working longer. Life expectancy in 2012 for women in the U.S. was 79, and for men it was 76. As the U.S. population lives longer, workers are “aging in place at work” as many continue to work past the current retirement age of 67. An older worker is someone as young as age 40, though commonly age 60+. If Boomers work well into their 70s, they will spend 80/77 percent of their lives working (women/men respectively).
For Boomers, working past the typical retirement age means remaining active and engaged in their professions. Remaining active includes being engaged in their community and volunteering. For many, working will be a must, due to lack of savings and the recent recession. Staying active in a profession also means giving back by training and mentoring the next generation of workers. What do older workers need in order to stay active and engaged in the workplace? I will share ideas and insights beyond the ADA* in a 4 part series on Aging In Place At Work. Part 1 is on VISION, Part 2 covers HEARING, Part 3 talks about ERGONOMICS, and Part 4 is on SIT/STAND options for a healthy workplace.
*The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is a law enacted in 1990 created a series of laws that compelled commercial spaces to allow access for everyone, and permitted workers and consumers to request reasonable accommodations to help them do their jobs and to enter and use public spaces. As a result it is your right, as a citizen, to have equal access.
Our bodies change as we age and so do our needs in the environments where we work, visit, and frequent as consumers. One change is in vision. read more…
We have our best vision around the age of 20. At middle age, most people need readers to see smaller printed items, or bifocal glasses. By age 60 the amount of absorbed light entering the eye is reduced by about 40% of the light a 20-year-old receives, reducing acuity and contrast sensitivity. Additionally, a 60-year-old needs three times the light to do certain tasks. With additional light, glare becomes an issue. How can businesses ease their employee and customers’ vision changes? I have a few examples.
I was pleased to see various reading glasses at the hostess stand at a restaurant, just for people to borrow that had forgotten their own. Have larger print menus available upon request. Large print menus would also benefit people with low-vision. (Defined: Low vision is a bilateral impairment to vision that significantly impairs visual functioning and cannot be adequately corrected with medical, surgical, therapy, conventional eyewear or contact lenses.) Other types of magnifiers are available – both hand-held or computer program for monitor viewing. There are many tools we can use to make environments safer and more usable for everyone. One is color, as it enhances how we view our environments. What colors are good for aging eyes?
As we age, the lens of the eye yellows, so we view the world through a yellow tint. Cool colors – or hues – tend to turn gray with the addition of yellow, so are not good choices in abundance of use, especially lighter shades of cool colors. Warm hues are easily seen and offer good contrast between lighter shades and darker shades. Colors to consider include red-raspberry, dark red, and red-orange. A sprinkle of cool colors will balance the use of the warm, especially in darker tones. What is important is to also have contrast in dark to light tones (depths of color) to distinguish different items from one another; such as the floor plane from the wall plane, doorways from the wall plane, and furnishings from the floor plane. For example, a red office chair or wingback chair is a great choice because of the intensity of color and the size of the chair. If the chair is surrounded by similar colors, it could be lost, visually; contrasting colors and depths of colors would make the chair stand out.
Lighting is very important in creating great spaces that anyone can use. Offering options within a space allows users to change the light level and type of lighting as it is needed – to read, write, make needed phone calls, read menus, watch videos or presentations, review documents that are printed or on a monitor, prepare lunch in the break/community area, relax, and participate in exercise or yoga classes at work.
With the addition of light comes glare. Windows should have some type of light control – shades are a common way to adjust the natural light level. Ceiling lighting can also add glare when sitting in front of a monitor. This glare can create eye fatigue and cause headaches. Light that is directed upward and bounces off the ceiling is a softer way to light a space than direct lighting directed downward.
As far as reasonable accommodations and vision, I conducted a seminar at a university where an employee shared that she needed some help seeing text on her computer screen, beyond making the font larger. She was reluctant to ask her supervisor for assistance, thinking it would jeopardize her job and how she was perceived as an employee. It is because of the ADA that you are entitled to assistance in doing your job. Items are available through many resources that are reasonable for all needs. For vision, check out Lighthouse International’s website for some great ideas.
I recently had a conversation with a Boomer, as she talked about how the physical environment at her job had changed. She plans to work to age 66 to receive full retirement benefits. She has, like most Boomers, been “corralled” within in a cubicle. In a cubicle setting, there’s a level of privacy and a sense of one’s own space. The newer hires want open spaces, sofas and movable electronics so they can plug in anywhere, and ear buds to keep the peripheral noise at bay, and storage cubbies (like lockers) for personal items. She heard a comment from management that the “cubes were for the old fogies.” She in turn, thought to herself that the spaces the younger staff prefers, would not allow her to focus because of distractions. The management comment was not a positive one for her and made her feel that she was not a valued employee, though she had been there for over 20 years. So how do companies blend the different needs of generations in the workforce?
Listening to the needs of employees is paramount in maintaining morale and a good work environment. For example, some employees want some level of flexibility in time and work schedule. Creating guidelines that will allow employees to do their best work – whenever they work – is a step in creating higher morale. Many Boomers are primary caregivers for aging family members, and may need some flexibility in taking a parent to the doctor. As for the younger generations, many are not typically nine to five, punch-a-time-clock kind of workers. They come to work to create their social environment, and through that environment, they connect, create, and do their work. Being placed in a small cube would feel confining and degrading. They like to see, to be seen, and to be a part of their surroundings. Many Boomers can adapt to most environments, though they tend to need a sense of place, a home base, where they can go and totally focus on the task at hand.
As for the physical layout of space, many businesses are working to accommodate both styles of office/workers. Social areas with comfortable seating might include space for coffee and healthy snacks. Areas located farther away from the social area can become the quieter office area where those that need to focus can do their jobs well, with less distractions. Cubicles have come a long way in size and shape, as well as views (glass panels) and various heights, colors, and materials. Most office furniture manufacturers offer flexibility and ease in changing panels and work surfaces to accommodate changing needs. Understanding to how people work, their needs in furniture and furnishings to do their best job, and to stay engaged in their work, with comfort and ease, is a huge step in creating a great work environment.
Also, based on the comment by management, I would also recommend inter-generational communication training to both management and personnel to gain sensitivity as to proven workplace vernacular and etiquette.