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Employers given keys to deal with changing work force

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By John Barnhart

Employers need to be flexible to deal with a changing work force, according to Greg Roth a senior manager at the Institute for a Competitive Workforce (ICW).

Roth spoke last week at a Bedford Area Chamber of Commerce seminar, part of the Chamber's Lunch & Learn Series. Roth's organization is an affiliate of the United States Chamber of Commerce. ICW, in collaboration with the Families and Work Institute and the Twiga Foundation, did a four year study on workplace flexibility. This study is what got the Chamber's attention and led to the invitation for Roth to speak.

This is the first time in American history that four distinct generations have been active in the workforce at the same time. In addition, there is more racial and gender diversity. There are more dual earner couples, more working people taking care of elderly parents and more men caring for children.

There have been changes in the way people view careers. Roth noted that there has been a decrease in the number of people who want jobs with more responsibility. Two-thirds of employed parents say their jobs don't leave them with enough time for their children and 55 percent of workers say their jobs don't leave them enough time for themselves.

Another challenge employers face is losing the knowledge that comes when employees retire. Roth said that 79 percent of people reaching retirement age want to continue working.

According to Roth, workplace flexibility involves organizing work in ways that benefit both the employer and the employee. Flexibility can involve a number of issues such as flexible hours and scheduling and telecommuting, providing opportunities for workers to transition from full time to part time. The exact form workplace flexibility takes will depend on the business.

In addition to making it easier to attract and keep good employees, workplace flexibility creates a more highly engaged employee, notes Roth. He said that studies indicate this approach makes employees 32 percent more engaged and reduces stress levels by 30 percent. Absenteeism rates and sick day usage drop.

"It's all leading to more productivity from employees," Roth said.

According to Susan Martin, the Chamber's president, the idea of the Lunch & Learn Series is to bring low-cost training to Bedford. This allows business people to attend seminars without having to travel and pay high fees.

The Chamber's Lunch & Lean Series will continue with a seminar on how to protect information from identity thieves. This will be held at Central Virginia Community College's Bedford campus from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Sept. 9. for more information, call the Bedford Area Chamber of Commerce at (540) 586-9401.

According to Martin, next year's series is already being planned by the Chamber's Business and Human Resources Group. In addition to planning this series, the group, also meets for lunch every month and holds roundtable discussions. It allows business managers and human resource managers the opportunity to share ideas and it serves as a resource for small business owners.