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Some employers fear gray drain

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Disability and absence managers are thinking about how the aging of baby boomers will affect wellness programs, absence rates and disability costs — but also about how to keep older workers’ knowledge from retiring along with the workers.

Researchers at the Cornell University Employment and Disability Institute recently joined with the Disability Management Employer Coalition (DMEC) to look at how 863 disability management professionals affiliated with DMEC are responding to the aging of boomer workers.

The sample included 522 participants who work for large or midsize employers.

In 2010, because of the aging of the boomers, workers age 55 and older made up about 19.5 percent of the workforce, up from about 12 percent in 1990.

In 2020, roughly 25 percent of U.S. workers could be 55 or older, researchers wrote in a report distributed by DMEC.

Only 36 percent of the employer disability program managers said their organizations have started to change absence and disability management programs to reflect the needs of an older workforce.

The disability managers said their organizations are trying to adapt by offering more flexibility, providing more case management services for employees who have chronic conditions and need help with staying at or returning to work, and by adding more wellness services.

Some disability managers said they find older workers are not much more likely to go out on disability than younger workers.

Some employers said the real challenge is not so much keeping older workers from filing disability claims as it is making sure that an organization conveys respect for older workers’ efforts and knowledge.

“It’s not simply recognizing the number of years that an employee has been with a company, but recognizing that providing history and continuity of services depends up[on] the experience of older workers,” one participant wrote.

Other participants talked about the need to develop new career paths that would put older workers in mentoring positions without making the workers feel as if they have been demoted.

To keep workers with valuable skill sets, employers may need to find ways to offer them more flexible jobs or less physically demanding jobs, participants said.

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