Conniemoore by Connie Moore

I met a beautiful woman today. Actually, "met" is an overstatement; she and I were both sitting in a waiting room at a medical clinic. I couldn’t help but watch her out of the corner of my eye because she was strikingly beautiful. She had beautifully coiffed hair, wore a gorgeous buttery-yellow jacket which was coordinated with a colorful and elegant scarf, plus her nail polish perfectly matched her outfit. (Hang in here guys, there is a point to this.)

Oh, did I forget to mention that she was probably somewhere in her late 70s or early 80s? I’m sure that immediately changed your mental picture of her. But I just loved her spunk. Here we were waiting to get blood tests at 8:00 AM, and she looked a 100 times nicer than me. In fact, I felt downright grungy sitting next to her. And even though she was wheelchair bound, you could tell she was fiercely independent. Her driver/helper had wheeled her in through the door and was sitting patiently in the waiting room with us.

Why am I bringing this vignette into a blog for information and knowledge management professionals? It’s because I’ve been thinking a lot recently about how Baby Boomers will likely remain in their jobs for many more years either by choice or from desperation. Some Baby Boomers–like me, and possibly even some older Veterans like this independent woman who left such an impression on me– can’t imagine a world without going to work. Although it may seem improbable or even unthinkable to Millenials and Gen Xers, some folks who are pushing 50 and 60 really don’t want to stop working. Maybe their workday will shorten to fewer hours and maybe the location will change to a home office, but these individuals can’t imagine being retired. Really.

Others desperately want to retire, but can’t. Retirement looks daunting–if not impossible–to them, particularly in traumatic economic times when they are worried about their retirement benefits, the diminishing value of their 401K accounts and the sinking value of their home equity.They see years (and mountains) of work ahead of them simply because not working means they can’t pay their bills or live comfortably.

Why is this so important? Well, it matters greatly for HR and workforce planning reasons, but it’s also important because information and knowledge management professionals will need to support these older workers in their work environments. For example, here are some things to think about:

  • Mice — older hands sometimes begin to shake from the early onset of Parkinson’s disease or other neurological issues. Your older workers may need a new type of mouse that corrects for tremors. Or perhaps an ergonomic mouse and mousepad are needed for arthritic and muscular conditions.
  • Telephones — older workers often buy simple cell phones, like Jitterbugs, instead of more complex phones like Blackberrys. Sometimes developers of mobile applications forget that not everyone has the same cell phone functionality.
  • Monitors — macular degeneration is a significant issue for older workers, making it harder for them to read computer screens. Larger monitors for visually impaired workers may be required. It’s also helpful for developers–who are sometimes in their 20s and 30s–to wrap their screens with plastic wrap to simulate how the screen looks to older employees. This raises the developers’ awareness and cuts down on usability issues.
  • Speech recognition — carpal tunnel syndrome is also a big issue for older workers. That’s because carpal tunnel syndrome isn’t just caused by repetitive motions; it’s also caused when inflammation (e.g. arthritis) pressures nerves in the wrist. Some older workers have experimented with speech recognition software to reduce the amount of typing required, but many of them voice frustration with the way the software works. Still, it’s important to help them find a solution to this very real problem.

The most important thing you can do? Start thinking about the aging worker issue and develop a list of ways you can help older workers stay productive. Because many older workers have no desire to retire, and many others wish they could retire–but for reasons out of their control–can’t. Your job is to help them stay working–effectively and productively–in their jobs.