I recently watched a story that aired on the show, CBS Sunday Morning, about BMW in Germany and how they are looking ahead to accommodate the “special needs” of an aging workforce. BMW values their older workers because they have more patience and skills that comes with experience. What they have less of is flexibility, strength and keen eyesight. My ears perked up because I was hearing a similarity between aging workers and common challenges of individuals with disabilities.
BMW created a special project taskforce team of employees with an average of 47 to provide feedback on how BMW can make things better on their production floor. The responses they received included; use of magnifying glasses, wooden floors, special shoes, computer screens with larger type, seats to sit on, and places to stretch on the work floor. In the end, they made approximately 70 small changes that cost about $50,000.
The surprising part of the project’s results was the impact on profitability. BMW experienced a 7% increase in productivity, a reduction in absenteeism, and a defect rate of zero. With these results, BMW is no longer calling this a project to aid the elderly. They are calling it their fresh, new plan to increase productivity.
I am impressed with BMW’s willingness to face the reality of an aging workforce that is looming seven years down the road and to admit they didn’t have a solution. Kudos to BMW for seeing and naming the elephant in the room!
I am impressed with BMW’s process of being curious, engaging directly with the workers, and asking them to tell management how to make working conditions better. They went straight to the source!
I am impressed with the simplicity and practicality of these special accommodations. It took so little for the company to improve the quality of life for their employees, and in turn, for the company to profit on multiple levels. Humanitarian and profitable!
I wonder how many companies avoid proactively hiring workers with disabilities because they don’t know what special accommodations they’ll need? When we don’t know, our imaginations often run wild and we think up all sorts of “what if” scenarios – most of them very expensive. Many times the needed accommodations are actually very simple and practical – if we are just willing to go directly to the source and ask “What do you need to make things better?” The solutions may be surprisingly simple and they may also be beneficial for other employees in the company. It could just be a simple and powerful way to increase employee morale, reduce absenteeism and increase productivity — the dream trifecta for every organization.