ADDENDUM: We are starting to see print media picking up the stories aimed at empowering our aging population. Here are some terrific articles from The New York Times and Business News Daily. Hopefully TV and the news will follow with more stories and characters that make aging make a difference.
On Labor Day, we take a look at one of the key issues of our time, unemployment, which particularly strikes workers over 45 who are often cast aside for younger, cheaper labor, in spite of the valuable knowledge and experience they bring. CBS Sunday Morning had a great feature on how BMW made a few small changes – at virtually no expense – that improved productivity and allowed them to profitably keep their aging workforce. Their innovative approach and simple solutions serve as an example other companies can easily follow.
CBS’s story shows how BMW dealt with the problem by asking its employees what the company could do to solve it. The result: for a $50,000 investment in simple changes – things like magnifying glasses to read the small writing on car parts; and shoes, new flooring, and chairs that make standing for long hours more comfortable – BMW was rewarded with a 7% increase in productivity, an absentee rate below the plant’s average, and the product defect rate dropped to zero. Not to mention, people keeping their jobs and improving their work conditions.
Unlike so many media reports that spread doom and gloom, features like this provide a window into real things we can do to make a difference, while bringing humanity and dignity to the problem. When the BMW production manager is asked why he doesn’t just fire the older workers, he says, “that might be the simple way to solve the problem, but we have a social contract… where we say, that’s not the solution we will look for.”
Companies that treat workers like they matter, that handle problems by finding out what their workers need and providing it, in exchange for increased productivity, job satisfaction, and sustained employment sounds like a winning concept to us.