Does an Aging Workforce Truly Represent Talent Risk for Today’s Employers?

Should employers be concerned about the aging workforce?
By: | September 1, 2013 • 4 min read

Point: Older workers are more valuable than younger workers. Keep them as long as you can.

I reacted with wry amusement mixed with concern when a 20-something relation posted a picture of himself on Facebook the other day — taken by him at work — accompanied by a message saying that he had nothing to do at work.

Dan Reynolds, Editor-in-Chief, Risk & Insurance

Dan Reynolds, Editor-in-Chief, Risk & Insurance®

Need I say more?

I will say more because this is an example of someone who is so green that he didn’t stop to think about the implications of what he was doing.

With age, generally speaking, comes wisdom. Many times we don’t get things right on the first try. It can take years until we finally get a concept right.

As we grow, we learn and if we are not learning as we grow we are doing something wrong.

So why is it that we quietly usher out the door, never to return, the knowledge and experience of older workers, when someone reaches the age of 65 or 68?

There is a lot of value in older workers that as a culture we just let drop when we shouldn’t.

The fact that many workers these days need to work longer because they haven’t been able to save enough should not be looked at as a tragedy. It should be looked at as an opportunity. An optimist looks at the current economic cycle and sees tremendous value in keeping older workers on longer, when their knowledge is needed most.

Companies have the resources to make sure these older workers stay healthy and productive longer. Coaching on diet and exercise is just one of those resources.

Rather than look at older workers and younger workers as rivals, we should be looking at them as partners. The old can teach the young what they know about life and business. Younger workers can help older workers leverage their knowledge by using technology.

Let’s keep our older workers as long as we can. If we lose them we run the risk of knowledge drain, not to mention the loss of the talent we saw in them when we hired them in the first place.

If we retain them, that human asset, managed correctly, gains in value every year.

Counterpoint: Older workers are costing employers due to health factors and the exclusion of younger workers.

It may sound crass — and done improperly, it’s certainly the basis for a major class-action lawsuit — but companies really should be thinking more about “out with the old and in with the new.”

Anne Freedman, Senior Editor, Risk & Insurance

Anne Freedman, Senior Editor, Risk & Insurance®

Study after study has shown that older workers are putting off retirement, fearful of outliving their savings. It’s hard to blame them for that, but the down side for organizations is not just a decline of spark and creativity, it’s an increase in workplace absence and workers’ compensation costs.

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, the amount of time off from work due to injury and illness increases steadily with age, even though the rate of injury and illness is similar for older and younger workers.

With the fastest growing segment of the working population being individuals 55 and older, the impact on organizations can be excessive. In this belt-tightening economy, can employers really afford those ever-growing expenditures?

The number of older workers still on the payroll is costing organizations in other ways as well — especially in the realm of lost innovation and opportunity. Young ideas, untethered to a philosophy of the same-old way of doing business, are what’s needed to jump-start many organizations.

In addition, young workers have an innate understanding of innovative technology, learned from the cradle and probably surpassing that of many organizations. That knowledge is crucial to putting together a successful vision and growth strategy.

By comparison, some older workers have difficulty in adapting to change and cutting-edge technology. And, let’s face it, many older workers have stopped trying so hard. They are competent, but comfortable. They are not looking to drive themselves hard at this stage of life.

There is no shortage of talented, younger employees in this struggling economy. In fact, according to a Northeastern University professor who recently crunched the numbers, about 36 percent of recent college graduates are mal-employed.

They are wasting their educations working in low-paid service industries. And their ambition and innovative ideas are being lost to employers, whose own workforces are stagnant.


Editor’s note: The opinions stated in the Zurich Point of Action are provided for informational purposes only and are solely those of Zurich in North America.
The Zurich Point of Action opinions are not legal advice and Zurich assumes no liability concerning the information above. The Point and Counterpoint opinions are those of Risk & Insurance® and are completely independent of Zurich.

Anne Freedman is managing editor of Risk & Insurance. She can be reached at [email protected]

More from Risk & Insurance

More from Risk & Insurance

4 Companies That Rocked It by Treating Injured Workers as Equals; Not Adversaries

The 2018 Teddy Award winners built their programs around people, not claims, and offer proof that a worker-centric approach is a smarter way to operate.
By: | October 30, 2018 • 3 min read

Across the workers’ compensation industry, the concept of a worker advocacy model has been around for a while, but has only seen notable adoption in recent years.

Even among those not adopting a formal advocacy approach, mindsets are shifting. Formerly claims-centric programs are becoming worker-centric and it’s a win all around: better outcomes; greater productivity; safer, healthier employees and a stronger bottom line.


That’s what you’ll see in this month’s issue of Risk & Insurance® when you read the profiles of the four recipients of the 2018 Theodore Roosevelt Workers’ Compensation and Disability Management Award, sponsored by PMA Companies. These four programs put workers front and center in everything they do.

“We were focused on building up a program with an eye on our partner experience. Cost was at the bottom of the list. Doing a better job by our partners was at the top,” said Steve Legg, director of risk management for Starbucks.

Starbucks put claims reporting in the hands of its partners, an exemplary act of trust. The coffee company also put itself in workers’ shoes to identify and remove points of friction.

That led to a call center run by Starbucks’ TPA and a dedicated telephonic case management team so that partners can speak to a live person without the frustration of ‘phone tag’ and unanswered questions.

“We were focused on building up a program with an eye on our partner experience. Cost was at the bottom of the list. Doing a better job by our partners was at the top.” — Steve Legg, director of risk management, Starbucks

Starbucks also implemented direct deposit for lost-time pay, eliminating stressful wait times for injured partners, and allowing them to focus on healing.

For Starbucks, as for all of the 2018 Teddy Award winners, the approach is netting measurable results. With higher partner satisfaction, it has seen a 50 percent decrease in litigation.

Teddy winner Main Line Health (MLH) adopted worker advocacy in a way that goes far beyond claims.

Employees who identify and report safety hazards can take credit for their actions by sending out a formal “Employee Safety Message” to nearly 11,000 mailboxes across the organization.

“The recognition is pretty cool,” said Steve Besack, system director, claims management and workers’ compensation for the health system.

MLH also takes a non-adversarial approach to workers with repeat injuries, seeing them as a resource for identifying areas of improvement.

“When you look at ‘repeat offenders’ in an unconventional way, they’re a great asset to the program, not a liability,” said Mike Miller, manager, workers’ compensation and employee safety for MLH.

Teddy winner Monmouth County, N.J. utilizes high-tech motion capture technology to reduce the chance of placing new hires in jobs that are likely to hurt them.

Monmouth County also adopted numerous wellness initiatives that help workers manage their weight and improve their wellbeing overall.

“You should see the looks on their faces when their cholesterol is down, they’ve lost weight and their blood sugar is better. We’ve had people lose 30 and 40 pounds,” said William McGuane, the county’s manager of benefits and workers’ compensation.


Do these sound like minor program elements? The math says otherwise: Claims severity has plunged from $5.5 million in 2009 to $1.3 million in 2017.

At the University of Pennsylvania, putting workers first means getting out from behind the desk and finding out what each one of them is tasked with, day in, day out — and looking for ways to make each of those tasks safer.

Regular observations across the sprawling campus have resulted in a phenomenal number of process and equipment changes that seem simple on their own, but in combination have created a substantially safer, healthier campus and improved employee morale.

UPenn’s workers’ comp costs, in the seven-digit figures in 2009, have been virtually cut in half.

Risk & Insurance® is proud to honor the work of these four organizations. We hope their stories inspire other organizations to be true partners with the employees they depend on. &

Michelle Kerr is associate editor of Risk & Insurance. She can be reached at [email protected]