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How BMW is Dealing with an Aging Workforce

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It’s no secret that the population—and therefore the workforce—in many countries is aging, and that companies are struggling to adapt to some of the changes that reality necessitates. And those changes are likely to have a particular effect on companies that have traditionally relied on being able to replace aging workers with younger models.

One such company is German auto giant BMW, which is facing a particularly acute age-related crisis in its home country in the coming years.

BMW responded to this by experimenting with one of its production lines—typically places that require more youthful workers who can withstand the rigors of the workplace. The experiment: the firm raised the average age of one line to 47, and then asked the workers what the company could do to tailor the working environment to better suit their needs.

Based on that feedback, the company made around 70 improvements, including improving some of its tools and processes, installing extra furniture—particularly chairs and stretching areas—and even provided an industrial-sized magnifying glass.

While it’s not surprising that the experiment produced results–what employees can’t suggest ways to improve their workplace?)—there were still a couple of eye-opening findings. Attendance and sickness rates improved—likely a result of the increase in comfort—while productivity rose and the rate of defects “dropped to zero” (emphasis added). That’s right: it turns out that by considering the employee experience in the workplace, the company improved the performance of its employees. Even more surprising: the cost of the experiment was the relatively small sum of $50,000—a drop in the bucket for a firm the size of BMW, especially if it results in increased productivity and cost savings through defect reduction.

Watch the full video on BMW, courtesy CBS’ Sunday Morning.

–Phil Stott,

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