Carrie Clark, a public policy analyst with WorldatWork, has contributed this post as Featured Guest Blogger. This is the second post in a Corporate Voices blog series exploring key themes discussed during the “Focus on Workplace Flexibility” national conference, held on November 29-30. This series aims to maintain the dialogue and forward momentum for expanding awareness about the positive business impacts of flexibility, how flexibility improves the lives of working families and what tools and resources exist to help employers implement flexibility policies and practices.

Working in the work-life field, even in a part-time capacity, the one undeniable fact you’re faced with is this: Demographic changes mean everything. The changes that are revolutionizing the way work is done can be traced back to the simple fact that the workforce of today does not look anything like the workforce of decades past. Many of these demographic changes were discussed at length at the “Focus on Workplace Flexibility” conference, but this article will only focus on two of those changes – the rising numbers of older workers and the increasing numbers of working caregivers.

As early as a few years ago, the issue of older workers was causing angst in human resources departments from coast to coast for an entirely different reason than it is today. In the beginning part of the decade conventional wisdom held that the problem caused by the large number of older workers was the looming shortage of institutional wisdom as Baby Boomers retired in droves. But that was before the Great Recession; now, workers are staying in the workforce in astounding numbers.

In 2008, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that the number of workers aged 65 and over had increased 101 percent since 1977 and the number of workers aged 75 and over had increased an astounding 172 percent. These numbers are made even more incredible when you realize that they do not include the Baby Boom generation, which will start to reach 65 next year. The labor force participation rate of older workers has been rising steadily since the mid-1990s but the recession has affected them. Data out this week show that an additional 1.6 million people put off retiring due to the financial crisis and concerns about retirement savings.

What about caregivers? What does their picture look like in regards to the workforce? A report published by AARP and the National Alliance for Caregiving in November 2009  found that a full 29 percent of the U.S. population “provides care for a chronically ill, disabled or aged family member or friend during any given year and spends an average of 20 hours per week providing care for their loved one.” That’s 65 million people caring for people of all ages (7 out of 10 caregivers report caring for a loved one aged 50+). Caregivers also report lower health outcomes for themselves and lower incomes overall.

These caregivers are working while providing care, and most report that it has had an impact on their job performance – 73 percent of family caregivers who care for someone over the age of 18 either work or have worked while providing care, and 66 percent have had to make some adjustments to their work life, from reporting late to work to giving up work entirely.

So what does this all mean? Employers are still figuring that out, but it’s pretty clear that there are a myriad of positive benefits from offering flexibility programs aimed towards older workers and caregivers. A 2007 WorldatWork study found that workplace flexibility programs preferred by older workers (part-time schedules, job sharing, telecommuting, and phased retirement) had a moderate or high impact on the retention of all workers; some (telecommuting and part time schedules) even had a moderate or high impact on attraction. The same survey found that on-site child care programs and emergency back-up dependent care resources also had a moderate or high impact on retention.

As for the ROI case for these programs, I could give you many numbers, studies, reports, and statistics about the programs I’ve discussed above, but that would be doing a disservice to all the things I’ve learned. It’s imperative for the benefit of all workers to not think about work-life programs in a vacuum– as a solution to just this problem. Work-life programs need to be thought of as an overall portfolio of benefits. A great resource for helping companies start to think about their work-life portfolio is the Alliance for Work-Life Progress’s Categories of Work-Life booklet that describes, in detail and with business case bullets, the entire universe of work-life programs and their impact on your workforce as a whole, including older workers and caregivers.