Wednesday, February 17, 2010


The U.S. workforce has been changing dramatically. It is more diverse racially, women are in the labor force in much greater numbers than ever before, and the average age of the workforce is now considerably older than before. As a result of these demographic shifts, HR management in organizations has had to adapt to a more varied labor force both externally and internally. The three most prominent dimensions of the demographic shifts affecting organizations are highlighted next.
RACIAL/ETHNIC DIVERSITY Projections by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics are that the racial/ethnic mix of the U.S. workforce will continue to shift. The white labor force is expected to decline from 80% of the workforce in 1986 to about 73% by 2006. This increase means that non-whites will compose about 28% of the U.S. labor force by 2006. Also, with 36% of all children under age 18 being non-white, the demographic shifts to greater racial/ethnic diversity are likely to continue. In addition, immigration of individuals into the United States is heavily weighted toward non-whites.
The importance of all these shifts is that HR professionals must ensure that diverse groups are managed and treated equitably in organizations. Also, HR professionals will have to develop diversity-oriented training so that all employees, regardless of background and heritage, can succeed in workplaces free from discrimination and inappropriate behaviors. It also means that more attention will have to be given to recruiting, staffing, and promoting individuals without regard to their racial/ethnic heritage, so that equal employment results for all.
AGING OF THE WORKFORCE Most of the developed countries are experiencing an aging of their populations—including Australia, Japan, most European countries, and the United States. In the United States, the median age will continue to increase from about 31 years in 1986 to over 40 by 2006. This increase is due in part to people living longer and in part to a decrease in the number of younger people, particularly in the 16—24 age bracket. In fact, it is projected that by 2020 about 20% of the U.S. population will be 65 or older, and that there will be as many people over 65 as there will be ages 20—35.
The aging of the population also is reflected in the occupational shifts noted previously. The growth in medically related jobs will be due primarily to providing care to older persons who will live longer and need greater medical care.
Taken together, this aging issue means that HR professionals will continue to face significant staffing difficulties. Efforts to attract older workers through the use of part-time and flexible staffing will increase.7 Also, as more older workers with a lifetime of experience and skills retire, HR will face significant challenges in replacing them with workers having the capabilities and work ethic that characterize many older workers.
For HR management, elder care will grow as a major HR issue. More workers will have primary care responsibilities for aging, elderly relatives, with over 22 million U.S. households having elder-care responsibilities. One estimate is that lost productivity due to workers having elder care responsibilities is at least $11 billion per year.8 Even group benefit programs are changing, with long-term care insurance being added by an increasing number of employers. In these programs workers can allocate some of their “benefit dollars” to buy long-term care insurance at lower group rates.
BALANCING WORK AND FAMILY For many workers in the United States, balancing the demands of family and work is a significant challenge. While this balancing has always been a concern, the growth in the number of working women and dual-career couples has resulted in greater tensions for many workers. According to data from the U.S. Census Bureau, families and households today can be described as follows:
-The “traditional family” represents only 10% or less of today’s U.S. households.
-The number of households of married couples with no children living at home
is growing and represents more households than those of married couples with children.
-Dual-career couples compose about 60% of all married couples, representing 30.3 million couples.
-Households headed by a single parent make up almost 30% of all families, with women heading most of these households.
-Single-parent households are less prevalent among whites than among other racial/ethnic groups.
-Seventy percent of all women with children under age six are in the workforce, and 60% of all women with children under age three are working.
-Both men and women are marrying at later ages, with the median age of first marriage for men about 27 and for women about 24.
-A majority of both men and women aged 18 to 24 still live with their parents or are considered dependents.
The decline of the traditional family and the increasing numbers of dualcareer couples and working single parents place more stress on employees to balance family and work. For instance, many employees are less willing than in the past to accept relocations and transfers if it means sacrificing family or leisure time. Organizations that do get employees to relocate often must offer employment assistance for spouses. Such assistance can include contacting other employers, providing counseling and assistance in resume development,
and hiring employment search firms to assist the relocated spouse. Additionally, balancing work and family concerns has particular career implications for women, because women more than men tend to interrupt careers for child rearing.
To respond to these concerns employers are facing growing pressures to provide “family-friendly” policies and benefits. The assistance given by employers ranges from maintaining references on child-care providers to establishing onsite child-care and elder-care facilities. Also, employers must have HR policies that comply with legislation requiring many employers with at least 50 workers to provide up to 12 weeks of unpaid parental/family leave, as noted in the Family and Medical Leave Act.


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