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The Challenges of Workforce Aging


by Stephany Below, Communications Manager, and Blair Ford, Lewis-Burke Associates, LLC

SIOP Hosts Congressional Briefing on Capitol Hill

With older adults representing a growing proportion of the workforce and experiencing more negative reemployment outcomes following job loss, U.S. congressional and federal agency policymakers must grapple with how to incentivize workers to remain active in the workforce longer, continue working following retirement, and overcome barriers to reemployment. 

On May 12, SIOP hosted a congressional briefing, “The Challenges of Workforce Aging,” in Washington, D.C. to promote the Society as a resource for federal agencies, congressional policymakers, and related stakeholders on workforce aging matters. 

The hearing was well attended by members of the social science community. Additionally, there were representatives from the Senate Special Committee on Aging, the House Committee on Education and Workforce, and Senator Mark Kirk’s (R-IL) office. 

The event helped to raise the profile of I-O psychology research while promoting SIOP’s Frontiers Series publication, Facing the Challenges of a Multi-Age Workforce: A Use Inspired Approach.  The briefing also coincided with the Administration for Community Living’s Older Americans Month, which celebrates the 50th anniversary of the Older Americans Act.  Over the last year, SIOP has actively engaged with federal and congressional policy makers on retirement security and the challenges facing older Americans in the workforce as part of the 2015 White House Conference on Aging policy dialogue.      

During the event, Fellow Lisa Finkelstein, professor of Psychology at Northern Illinois University; Fellow Ruth Kanfer, professor of Psychology at Georgia Institute of Technology; and Member Mo Wang, director of the Human Resource Research Center at the University of Florida, represented SIOP by presenting research on the aging workforce, retirement, and human resource management practices. The panel was moderated by Fellow Jose Cortina, past president of SIOP and professor of Psychology at George Mason University. 

“Workforce aging is arguably the most important challenge facing public policymakers and organizations today,” Kanfer explained after the event. “Workers over the age of 55 represent the fastest growing segment of the workforce today.  At the same time, over the next decade many organizations will face the prospect of losing a majority of their most experienced and talented employees to retirement. How public policymakers and organizations address these challenges has real consequences for societal well-being and competitive advantage.” 

Kanfer added that SIOP members have this unique perspective as well as the knowledge and skills necessary to help craft and evaluate innovative strategies.

“Addressing the challenge of workforce aging demands an understanding of work from both the organizational and employee perspective,” she said. “Working in partnership with organizations, SIOP members are active in projects to develop and evaluate innovative HRM practices, such as bridge retirement programs, aimed at improving the productivity, retention, and well-being of older workers.  Recent review findings and books by SIOP members also provide evidence on key issues as they relate to all aspects of older individual employability, including, for example negative age stereotypes, the efficacy of job search programs, reemployment outcomes, job attitudes, training and development, teamwork, and job performance.”   

During the briefing the panelists explained that aging workers have different employment and retirement motivations, off-the-job demands, person-to-job compatibility, and needs for skill updating.  Also, older workers have harder times finding new jobs. These complexities require new strategies for hiring, training, job searching, and managing, as well as transitioning to retirement.

Additionally, the speakers emphasized the importance of I-O psychologists partnering with public agencies and policymakers to design, implement, and evaluate intervention studies to maximize the effectiveness of workplace practices and programs. Some of these include work redesign studies, mentoring programs, intergenerational relations best practices, and health promotion approaches. Specifically, they mentioned the Senior Community Service Employment Program, a program housed within the Department of Labor and authorized through the Older Americans Act. 

The briefing was also recently covered in the Association for Psychological Science blog "Minds for Business." Read the full blog post here!

Overall, the panelists showcased the impactful and real-world applications of I-O in ensuring a productive economy and demonstrated the need for continued financial support for I-O research.

“I think the event went really well,” Finkelstein noted. “It was a fairly small crowd, but they were very engaged, asked questions, and expressed thanks for all the useful information. Members of SIOP study the issues of the aging workforce from so many angles—from sustaining longevity on the job, to retirement, to job search training, to age biases and discrimination. This is one of the biggest issues facing the world of work today, and any opportunity we have to get the word out about how I-O psychology research can make a difference, we should take. Every bit helps the mission.”