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Ageing Workforce

Almost half of people believe they will be fit and healthy enough to remain in work until 70, research has suggested. With National Fitness Day looming later this month, it is imperative that employers therefore communicate “use it or lose it” health promotion messages around maintaining fitness and health.

Employee health and wellbeing – the “fit to work” challenge for ageing workers

Almost half of people believe they will be fit and healthy enough still to be working at the age of 70, a survey has suggested, highlighting the challenge facing employers in terms of helping and enabling our ageing workforce to do just that.

The survey by Aegon concluded that more than a quarter (26.9%) of people expected still to be working either full or part time at the age of 70, with men (27.5%) more likely to assume they would still be in work at this age than women (24.5%).

Nearly half (45%) said they expected to be fit and healthy enough to stay in work, nearly two thirds (65.7%) expected still to be physically active, and 62.6% believed they would be still be mentally agile.

Aegon pensions director Steven Cameron said: “Many people are choosing to keep working and earning, perhaps by cutting back their hours gradually, even once they’ve started taking their pension.

“The UK government’s introduction of pension freedoms and banning employers from having a fixed retirement age has made it easier for more people in the UK to choose to work past traditional retirement ages.”

The Aegon research echoes a report by Prudential published in June, which concluded that half of people due to reach state pension age are also planning to stay in employment rather than retire, with more than half (54%) also believing they will be physically and mentally able to do this.

Accommodating older workers

However, this assumption of being both physically and mentally “fit” enough to work into older age poses a number of challenges for employers. Not least there is the question of how to ensure that work, and the workplace, can accommodate these older workers to realise this ambition of working into later life.

For example, it is likely employers will need to recognise that they may increasingly be needing to adjust workplaces, almost as standard, to accommodate older workers with chronic or long-term health conditions.

This was something highlighted by Sarah Newton, minister for disabled people, health and work, over the summer when, on a visit to the charity Arthritis Research in London, she urged employers across the country to make workplace adjustments for people with arthritis and other musculoskeletal conditions.

What, then, can employers do about this looming challenge?

First, it is simply about being proactive around “use it or lose” health promotion, activity and fitness messages, for example linking into calendar markers such as National Fitness Day, which takes place later this month, on 26 September.

Second, it is about, as far as is realistic, being prepared to be flexible around adjusting workplaces and duties so as to accommodate those who, whether temporarily or permanently, have lower physical and mental fitness yet can still make a valuable contribution.

Fast-track physio and EAPs

Third, it is about ensuring that, where appropriate, employees are able to access the fast-track physiotherapy, occupational therapy and mental health support (perhaps through access to an EAP) that will enable them to carry on working and being productive into older age.

This, in turn, is likely to mean employers and employees having access to proactive occupational health provision, as OH is the most likely to be able to offer the expertise to co-ordinate and oversee this sort of provision, support and guidance.

Therefore, the financial, moral and business case for investing in occupational health – as highlighted recently by the Society of Occupational Medicine – is only likely to become more compelling as time goes on and the challenges of managing, supporting and retaining an ageing workforce become ever-more apparent.

As Dr Lucy Wright, Chief Medical Officer at Optima Health, has highlighted: “The gradual ageing of our workforce has been apparent for some time now, but is a challenge that employers, increasingly, will need to engage with.

“The fact so many workers, rightly or wrongly, assume they will be able to work deep into older age creates both a challenge and an opportunity for employers. It is an opportunity because it means there is potentially a valuable, experienced talent pipeline of people that employers may be able to tap into. But it is a challenge because employers may need to work hard to adjust and accommodate these older workers from a health and productivity perspective.

“The expertise of occupational health, and the multidisciplinary support it can bring to bear, can be a vital element within this mix. Therefore, over time, the business case for investing in occupational health provision may become even more compelling,” she adds.