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Unlock Success: Embracing Age and Disability Diversity in the Workplace

Age and Disability 

According to the United States’ Census, there will be more people over the age of 60 than under the age of 18 by 2034. In 2017, there were several articles and programs highlighting the ‘Greying of America’. The Greying of America affects us all. Every industry is feeling and will feel the impact of our aging population. Furthering the aging of America, Covid-19 forced retirement for many employees. This mass exodus created a significant employee shortage  in many industries. Covid and aging has left most organizations scrambling. A Pew study says there are more millennials (1981-2000) than baby boomers in the workplace (1946-1964), (Fry, 2020). And while there are more millennials employed (baby boomers -25%; millennial – 35%), than baby boomers, the gap created by the departure of baby boomers has left a significant gulf  in the workplace. Whether older workers were forced out, left due to work conditions, or took retirement, the result was the same…less skilled workers. 

Although there are laws protecting older workers, those laws are so dense, the average worker cannot overcome the hurdle to challenge their departure. Many organizations weigh age and salary as factors when they decide to eliminate an older worker. At one time, employee retention was sourced in employer historic data. Today, the history of how, what, when, and where can be patched together through interactions and digital data. Although baby boomers’ numbers are decreasing, baby boomers still matter. Employers should consider age and disability as partnerships between age and work types. While baby boomers may age out or be forced out of the workplace, younger workers have, also, left the workplace for better opportunities or more money. These departures have left a human, knowledge, and a social chasm. While older workers may be displaced, disabled workers also struggle in the workplace. 

Some disabilities may be visible, others are not, but both are equally impactful. Some employers often do not have clear guidelines to ensure the disabled employee’s success in the workplace. Some job ads indicate an employee must be able to lift a certain number of pounds or sit or stand for a certain number of hours. Some disabled employees find themselves on the outside looking in when it comes to social and work interactions. If the employee does not feel as if they belong or included, the outcome many not be best for either the employee or employer. Belonging, Inclusion + Diversity, Equity (BI + DE ©) asserts disabled, and older workers are as valuable to an organization’s success as those without disabilities. 

Industry must develop policies and practices to ensure they are getting the best and most from their employees and their employees are getting the best and most from their employer. There are several steps to achieve a productive and harmonious workplace. One simple change is to create inclusive job descriptions. In annual performance meetings (if organizations still have these), the employer/manager should ask open-ended questions of how the work is going, how the employee feels he or she is contributing to the work, and areas where the employee sees opportunity for improvement. Employers should create a template of questions for disabled and  older employees that assesses the employer’s organizational mission and the employees career path. Strong and intentional communication remains a central component of employee and employer success.

Fowers, A., & Schaul, K. (2023). The boomers are retiring. See why that’s bad news for workers. workforce-economy/ 

Fry, R. (2020). Millennials overtake Baby Boomers as America’s largest generation. americas-largest-generation/ 

Dr. Rochelle Newton, Ph.D.

Published on: September 12, 2023