Nevadans aged 65 and older are far more likely to be working these days than they were a decade ago.
No matter whether they're working because they want to or because they have to, the increasing prevalence of gray hair in the state's workforce presents a new set of challenges to managers.
And it may be presenting a little-noticed challenge as well to youngsters who are looking to find their first jobs but find their way blocked by older workers who opt against retirement.
Bill Anderson, chief economist for the Nevada Department of Employment, Training and Rehabilitation, reported a few days ago that 20.6 percent of Nevadans aged 65 or older held jobs in 2010.
That's nearly a 61 percent increase from a decade earlier, when 12.8 percent of state residents aged 65 or older were working.
In part, that's a reflection of the deep recession, Anderson wrote.
"Recessionary wealth destruction is forcing older workers to delay retirement for financial reasons," the state's economist said.
But at the same time, Anderson said the growing number of older workers in Nevada may reflect a deep social change, something akin to the dramatic increase of women into the nation's workforce during the 1960s and 1970s.
As improved health allows workers to continue working later in life, they are doing so.
The growing number of older workers is all the more noticeable, Anderson said, because it comes during a time that a smaller percentage of Nevadans overall are participating in the workforce. During the decade from 2000 to 2010, participation in the labor force declined from 70 percent of the state's population to 65.6 percent.
Even though the unemployment rate stands at 13.2 percent in the Reno-Sparks area and 13.6 percent statewide, older workers continue to have success finding jobs, says Deborah Jaquith, communications director for AARP in Nevada, and a jobs board at AARP.org draws heavy use from the group's members.
Older workers, she says, have a reputation for clean-and-sober performance, typically are loyal, and generally have a strong work ethic.
State figures show, for instance, that turnover rates among workers aged 65 or older run about 7.8 percent, compared with 9.1 for all workers and 23.5 percent among teen workers.
Mindy Brenner, a human resources consultant in Reno, says the growing number of older workers requires that managers pay attention to their needs.
Older workers, she says, may have a greater interest in flexible schedules particularly those that allow some measure of telecommuting than other younger workers. They may be working because they want benefits particularly health benefits more than they want cash compensation.
And the mix of four generations sometimes five in a workplace may present communications challenges to employers.
If nothing else, Brenner says numerous studies have found that the basic approach to work not to mention the approach to work-life balance is dramatically different between the Baby Boomers who are deciding to retire and workers who are young enough to be their grandchildren.
Even such a simple matter as communications technology needs careful consideration, Jaquith says. An older worker might expect to hear from an employer through his land-line telephone at home. Younger workers are far more likely to rely on text messages.
But Frances McKee-Ryan, an assistant professor of management at the University of Nevada, Reno, says employers should be cautious about putting too much stock into generational stereotypes.
"Employees are individuals first and foremost," she says.
She says that the continued presence of larger numbers of gray-haired workers may be reducing the opportunities for younger workers to find jobs.
That's especially likely, McKee-Ryan says, when retirement-aged workers take low-level jobs to supplement retirement income.
Anderson says the state's employment statistics appear to bear that out.
"Many of these (older) workers are competing for jobs traditionally filled by younger workers." he wrote in a study last autumn. "Given shifts in the distribution of Nevada's population and expectations for future job growth, older workers will continue to crowd out younger workers for some time."
In fact, state statistics last August showed that there were roughly 22,000 more workers aged 65 or older than there were teens in the state's labor force.
There's some irony in all this, McKee-Ryan notes, because a common concern of employers less than 10 years ago was fear that mass retirements of Baby Boomers would leave them without a cadre of experienced workers.
The growing number of workers who stick around past retirement age may be a trend that continues for decades.
Research by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics has found that members of Gen-X and the Millennial generations are saving even less for retirement than their Baby Boomer parents and may need to continue working in their senior years just to make ends meet.