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The aging work force: pros, cons and the need to prepare

The Gray Shift is coming, and it has nothing to do with a new hair-care product.

The term applies, rather, to what is expected to be a fundamental and inexorable altering of the American work force across the country, including in Maryland, in upcoming years.

Material change in the labor force -- most notably in the manufacturing industries -- is approaching, and fast, and it is marked centrally by this salient fact: The baby boomer population is large and comprised of millions of people who will be unable to retire as they had long envisioned.

What that means is this: More Americans will continue to work to advanced ages, with employers both reaping the benefits and suffering the consequences of this new phenomenon.

The upsides are many and clear. Older workers are flatly more experienced than younger employees. A trait often cited in this demographic is a strong work ethic and sense of on-the-job responsibility. As a recent media article notes, this can pay workplace dividends “in morale, worker loyalty and reduced training costs.”

There is a flip side to that, though, as clearly evidenced by myriad statistics indicating that older workers are comparatively greater health risks at the workplace. In fact, workplace injuries are far more common in employees as they approach or surpass ages that customarily signified retirement to previous generations of workers.

Astute and forward-thinking employers will well note that safeguarding their older workers through sound and innovative workplace strategies and ergonomic processes will improve the corporate bottom line.

Those that aren’t proactive in making necessary changes will likely be saddled by high numbers of on-the-job injuries, workers’ compensation claims and productivity losses.

Source:, "The Gray Shift part 1: An aging workforce creates new workplace injury issues," Earl Hagman, Sept. 25, 2013

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