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Prepare for Baby Boomer Employees with Acquired Disabilities

Prepare for Baby Boomer Employees with Acquired Disabilities

By: Jim Hasse

Productive baby boomers are now choosing to continue to work on a part-time basis, even though they are already retired. That’s no big secret.

But, as a recruiter, HR professional or hiring manager, you may not have thought about the implications of this shift in the employee landscape. These talented retirees who come back to work may have acquired a disability along the way and, as a result, require some workplace accommodations.

The Impact of Aging Boomers
Here’s why, during the coming decades, every job sector in the US is going to have a growing number of baby boomers with disabilities on the pay roll: demographics and economics.
Each of the first three decades of the 21st. Century will add 25 million more Americans over age 65, according to Older Population by Age: 1900–2050, US Department of Health and Human Services, Administration on Aging.

And, according to the US Census Bureau, about 56 percent of women and about 45 percent of men who are 65 years old or older have some type of disability.

Disability often comes with age. The number of people in the US who are blind, for example, is expected to double to at least 19.2 million in the 32 years between 1998 and 2030, according to a 2007 Lou Harris poll conducted for Lighthouse International.

And, these aging baby boomers “may be headed for a financial crisis, because they have saved, on average, only 12 percent of what they believe they will need to meet basic living expenses during retirement,” a crisis that will cause them to delay or interrupt their retirement to bring in an income ("Allstate Financial ‘Retirement Reality Check") Reveals Financial Crisis for Baby Boomers Heading into Retirement,” PR Newswire.)

Also remember this: The age for eligibility for Social Security retirement benefits is going up incrementally. That age will eventually climb from 62 to 67, with a substantial reduction in benefits for early retirees. During the next couple of decades, your employees won’t be taking early retirement nearly at the same rate as they have in recent years.

Rehire the Best Talent
As an employer, you will be in a position to leverage this need to work by not only retaining experienced workers but also bringing retired workers back to fill short-term needs. You’ll likely find yourself tapping into minds that do not necessarily fail with age.

If you have laid off a bunch of people or reduced the overall size of your staff during the Great Recession, you now might need extra help in special situations or a little special expertise on special projects.

You will find it extremely economical to rehire the best talent. This will especially be true of those who only recently retired from doing high-level work for you at significant salaries. Many will be willing to come back part-time or on a contract basis in what are increasingly termed “retirement jobs” for much less than they earned before retirement -- and with scaled-down or no benefit packages to drain your coffers.

Clearly not all of the over-65 workers you eventually retain, rehire, or add to your work force will be disabled, but it is likely you will be increasingly required to address a range of workplace accessibility issues.

One way to counteract the economic impact of more workers who are older and who have a disability is to create a workplace now that is inclusive of disability. Another way is to help your colleagues become literate about the adaptations that can be made to remove the impact of disability within your workplace.

Remember, the worker who becomes disabled due to age will not be like the disabled workers you are hiring now. Workers who do not regard themselves as disabled (but who do need assistance) may not be familiar with the many adaptive tools that they can use to keep working productively. It will largely be up to you, as an employer, to prepare for this eventuality.

Younger disabled people are more likely to self-identify as individuals who happen to have a disability. These younger people are less likely to regard vulnerability as an obstacle to work. They are more likely to be aware of (and have used) adaptive technology, such as scooters, crutches, and screen readers. They are more likely to have experienced working while being disabled.

By contrast, the older adult, for instance, who starts losing vision due to age, identifies herself as an older person but not as a visually impaired individual. It is common to hear older people deny their blindness, even if they are, by definition, legally blind. They will say, “I just don’t see as well as I used to.” They do not know there are ways around visual impairment. They may not be aware that visual impairment does not mean an inability to keep working.

And they almost certainly will not be as knowledgeable about the tools to gain access to information and to carry out on-the-job tasks.

At the onset of a disability, the current emphasis is on helping older adults to achieve skills so they can stay independent -- but not to send them back to work. Therefore, it may very well fall to you to be the one “in the know” about what an existing or returning older employee who has a disability can do to stay on the job.

Building disability awareness and developing inclusive hiring and advancement practices into your business now will allow you to be adept at such challenges before they become critical in the years ahead.

Hire younger workers with a disability now as you look to recruit top talent. /hr/hr-best-practices/recruiting-hiring-advice/acquiring-job-candidates/emotional-intelligence.aspx They will help you pave the way within your organization for retaining or rehiring your most valuable employees on perhaps a part-time basis, even though they are retired and have a disability.

Adapted from Perfectly Able: How to Attract and Hire Talented People with Disabilities by Lighthouse International. Compiled and edited by Jim Hasse. Copyright © 2010 Lighthouse International. Published by AMACOM Books, a division of American Management Association, New York, NY. Used with permission. All rights reserved.

Author Bio
Jim Hasse
, an Accredited Business Communicator and Global Career Development Facilitator, is the owner of Hasse Communication Counseling in Madison, WI, a company he founded that helps people with disabilities gain the confidence they need to develop meaningful careers for themselves and perform effectively in their jobs.  

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