A Focus on Employer Demand

The Sloan Research Network on Aging & Work is particularly interested in addressing demand issues. An extensive body of research exists on the supply side—on the older workforce itself and on what might keep more older people working even longer, e.g., phased retirement, more attractive part-time employment opportunities, more flexible work schedules, opportunities to shift to less demanding jobs or obtain training to move to new careers, and assistance in starting a business.  We do not know if widespread availability of these options would entice substantially more people to remain longer at work and make it possible for them to do so. What we do know is that employers are not, for the most part, reaching out to older workers with the inducements that they (or their advocates) say they want.  Why not?  This is a question we seek to answer, along with proposals/suggestions/strategies for projects that enhance our understanding of employer demand. Some demand avenues for exploration on the part of respondents to this RFP include, but are not limited to:

  • Are employers not yet facing a need for attracting or retaining older workers (and may not foresee one anytime soon)? Industries that have faced severe labor shortages have often implemented programs and policies that help them find or keep older workers who would – without the policies or programs – change jobs or retire.  The health industry is a prime example. Will the problem of older worker employment barriers and constraints take care of itself when/if employer need for workers increases?
  • Do employers (and the answer will likely be industry-specific) have or anticipate any alternatives to labor shortages? Alternatives might include automation, offshoring, and tapping into the huge population of educated workers worldwide available online?
  • Do employers fear that older workers are not up to the job, especially in a rapidly changing technological environment?
  • Do employer concerns about the costs of older workers dissuade them from implementing policies that might result in higher proportions of older workers in their firms? Studies attempting to assess the impact of an aging workforce on employer health care costs or firm productivity, for example, might indicate that older workers are not more costly, or that their positive attributes (e.g., greater engagement) offset any higher costs.  But that might not be the experience of individual employers, or employers may fear the higher costs, or they may not see supposed offsets as sufficiently compensating for higher costs or lower productivity.
  • Do employers worry about the potential legal consequences of getting rid of older workers who are not performing? Can alternative options such as phased retirement be structured in such a way that employers—who need to do succession planning—have a good idea of when their older workers will finally retire?
  • Are there other – perhaps more significant – questions that should be addressed in attempting to understand employer reluctance, hesitancy, aversion, etc. to increasing opportunities for older workers and/or making their workforces more attractive to them? Respondents are encouraged to suggest additional research questions.

In addition to enlightening us on any of the questions above (or others respondents may propose), proposed strategies to help overcome demand constraints are especially welcome.

We recognize that studies of employers and how they feel about workers or their concerns are very difficult to conduct, which is likely why research has tended to focus on supply.  The Network is hoping for innovative approaches to this challenge.

The Supply Side

Obviously, any supply must meet his or her employer needs. To the extent respondents can tie supply-side issues directly to demand, proposals focusing on supply will be considered.  Supply-side questions that might fit in with the Network’s interests include, but are not limited to, the following:

  • What might be the role of technological advances in facilitating later life work?
  • What types of training are most effective in facilitating older adult transitions to new technology? How important is older worker technological competence in employer decisions about hiring or retaining older workers?
  • What are the best strategies for developing unbiased measures of worker performance or productivity?
  • What workplace practices actually (as opposed to hypothetically or potentially) keep older employees active and engaged in their work? What do we know about the employers who offer these practices?

Responding to the RFP

If you are interested in responding to this RFP, please submit a brief abstract or description (no more than 250 words) on your topic area, its importance to research on aging and work, how it fits with the interest of the Network, and what kind of paper it might be, whether theoretical or empirical.  If it is an empirical paper, please let us know your data sources.  We welcome proposals that are on the planning table that might benefit from collaboration among Network members.

Deadline for Submission

Interested participants should submit proposals to jamesjc@bc.edu by February 24.  Invited participants will be notified of acceptance for inclusion in the Network’s submission for a GSA pre-conference by March 14.  Participants will then be notified as to whether the pre-conference has been accepted once decisions have been made by the GSA committee.