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ADJUSTING AS WORKERS AGE

An ergonomics expert says American companies are going to need to make a lot of changes as they adjust to an increasingly gray-haired work force. - A recent survey by the Pew Research Group predicted that 25 percent of American workers will be 55 or older by 2016, up from nearly 19 percent today. - An older work force is going to be a fact of corporate life, and in order to retain important intellectual capital and avoid age-discrimination lawsuits, companies need to figure out how to change office life to accommodate silver-haired employees, said Lance Perry, a senior risk engineer for insurance company Zurich Financial Services in Fort Worth, Texas. Perry has been analyzing company ergonomics, or the science of beneficial workplace design, for more than 25 years, and recently helped write a report on how to best accommodate and retain aging employees. Here are some basic recommendations.

- Make buttons on phones, instructions on printers and other visual signs larger so aging eyes can read them more easily.

- Voice-activated software is going to be more and more in use, Perry said, as typing gets harder for older hands.

- Forget highly polished, slick lobby floors in office buildings, he said. Think about changing to carpet, or a floor with more friction. Floors should also be all one height to try to fend off tripping over unexpected inclines or steps.

- More face-to-face meetings, rather than communication by e-mail. Older people also often prefer face-time instructions when dealing with newer technologies.

- Provide incentives for wellness program participation. An older population is more in need of nutritional guidance and physical activity to maintain fitness, he said.

- Mentoring with younger employees is also important to pass corporate knowledge from one generation to the next. Older employees are more likely to have been with a company for a long time.

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