Ask The Question If It Matters

Hello Boomers!

This week’s edition of CBS’s Sunday Morning contained a story about how luxury auto maker BMW is dealing with a workforce that is rapidly getting older.  Their success and their social morality should make U.S. employers sit up and take notice.

BMW, like many German industries, is facing an uncertain future as older workers begin to retire.  When they looked at their workforce and realized that there were not enough younger workers in the population to replace all of the potential losses from the older workforce retiring, they decided to try to keep their older workers on the production line longer.

In a bold experiment, BMW created a new production line consisting of older workers, average age of 47.  They did a few “special” things after asking for input from these workers. 

They made these workers new shoes and added wooden floors in their work areas so their feet wouldn’t hurt so much from standing all day.  Some employees were given modified stools so they could sit some of the time rather than spending an entire shift standing. 

Larger computer monitors were installed and the print was enlarged so older eyes could more easily read it.  For the small print cast into some production parts, magnifying glasses were made available so older eyes could more easily see the information.

In all, BMW made 70 small changes in the workplace to reduce the chance of errors and to lower physical strain at a cost of only $50,000.  That figure includes the lost production during the modification process.  

Guess what happened.

Productivity went up 7%.  Absenteeism in the new line fell below the plant’s average.  And the defect rate on this line went to ZERO!

If every manufacturing plant in America could improve their productivity by 7% and drop their defect rate to zero for an investment of $50,000 do you think they would?

They can.  But will they?  

Studies show that older workers have more patience and skill.  That’s due to having more experience.  But they also have less flexibility, less strength, and less vision than younger workers.  And that can be a real problem in any workplace.  

So employers who are interested in keeping the skills and the other qualities that older workers bring will have to make it easier for those workers to do their jobs.  Or they can lay them off, force them to retire, or downsize them and try to find enough skilled younger workers to fill their positions.

At BMW there is a “social contract” that outlines the first action as the right way to do things, especially since there are not enough younger skilled workers to implement the second action.  It seems that in the U.S., whatever “social contract” there is favors the latter course of action today. 

Far too many U.S. employers are practicing short-sighted resource management.  I guess they’ll worry about tomorrow when it comes.  Very short-sighted.  Perhaps even immoral.  Certainly stupid from a business standpoint if $50,000 nets you 7% more productivity, less absenteeism and no defects.

U.S. employers, my question to you is: Why? 

Boomers, my question to you is:  How does the maker of your car treat their older workers?  Does it matter to you?

If it does, ask the question when you shop:  Are you Boomer Friendly? 

We can change the way America does business by wielding our buying power, by buying from Boomer Friendly companies.

I’ll be looking at BMW’s the next time I’m in the market for a car.  How about you?

You can read the article about the segment at:


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