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How can companies optimise outcomes for this ageing
workforce while improving their bottom line?

2012 was meant to signal the start of retirement for the baby boomers, people born between 1946 and 1964. But they are living longer and staying healthier than previous generations. Coupled with pared down pensions, a stock market that is affected by the recession and low interest rates, financial pressures have made it inevitable that people continue working into their seventies. At the same time, the birth rate in many European countries, as well as China is decreasing. That has left employers facing a huge potential skills gap. There are just not enough people aged 30-40 in the EMEA region to replace retiring workers.


As a result, statisticians estimate that by 2020, 45% of German workers will be aged over 50, up from 25% today. In Switzerland, a report issued in October 2012 also highlighted the increasing trend for senior workers to stay at work well after their retirement age[1]. The situation is similar in other European countries. In fact, the European Agency for Safety and Health at Work estimates that the 55-66 year old age group is expected to expand by approximately 16.2% between 2010 and 2030, while all other age groups are expected to decrease accordingly[2].

Europe is not alone. In the US, the number of workers aged 55 and over grew by 3.5 million from September 2009 to September 2012[3]. Employers in Japan, Singapore and South Korea are in a similar situation and also have to prepare for the challenges posed by an ageing workforce.

Managing an Ageing Workforce

What is the challenge?

It is clear that workforces in 2020 will look very different to those of today. While management is keen to retain the skills of older workers, it has to work out the best means of dealing with the specific challenges an older work population poses. These range from workplace design issues - making the most of the skills developed by older workers without monopolising senior position; putting in place health-related benefits; and developing strategies to transfer knowledge from ageing employees to prevent skill gaps. The loss of skills from a large group of employees that are simultaneously nearing retirement will have a major impact on any business.

The key to a longer working life: safety and health at work

Age and illness are inextricably linked, and many illnesses stem from lifestyle related issues, such as an illness or injury on the job. As a result, health and safety at work is vitally important to keep older, skilled employees working. This was underlined by both a Swiss and a European Union survey. According to an EU-OSHA European Opinion Poll on Health and Safety at work, 87% of people see good occupational safety and health as crucial if people are to work longer before they retire[4]. But according to a Euro barometer survey, many of them fear that conditions at their workplaces will not make it easy for them to continue working into old age. More than half of those surveyed thought their workplace had not been sufficiently adapted to the needs of older people.

A study commissioned by the Swiss Confederation came up with similar findings. It showed that companies, despite recognising the value and skills of older workers in certain areas, do not apply a consistent human resources policy that encourages aging workers to stay right up to or beyond their retirement age[5].

“Companies have to make allowances for older workers,” Peter Augsten, Practice Leader, DuPont Sustainable Solutions says. “If they want to retain the knowledge and skill these employees have developed over years, they need to put in place specific benefits and policies to support them.”

How to prepare for and ensure the safety and health of ageing employees at work

1. Recognise the value of aging workers through appropriate workplace attitude
2012 was named the European Year for Active Aging and Solidarity between Generations. “Active Aging” is described as “encouraging older people to remain active by working longer and retiring later”.

EU-OSHA suggests an “attitudinal reform to create fair and appropriate attitudes towards older workers”[6]. Companies need to make an effort to bring about a positive working atmosphere for old workers. Out-dated attitudes or “ageism” can negatively impact their career and prematurely force them out of the workplace, deny them promotions and/or exclude them from learning and training opportunities[7]. Adapting the workplace to older workers requires some flexibility and perhaps re-thinking of where and how to make the most of their skills, but mistaken beliefs and negative attitudes to older workers can lose businesses a valuable human resource.

 

2. Promote health and a healthy lifestyle

According to a study by the Swiss Confederation, the decision to keep working after retirement age does not only depend on financial issues, but primarily on health issues[8].

Ageing is not an equal process and two people with the same birth dates might have very different physical and mental conditions. Studies show that individuals who exercise regularlycan remain relatively unchanged in terms of physical capacity between the ages 45 and 65. This means that a 45-year-old employee who does not exercise may be less fit than an employee who is 20 years older who does[9].

“Age management” within a workplace must therefore always focus on prevention of health and safety issues.

Corporate safety and health professionals should take proactive measures to identify and treat health issues, which might be induced either by age or working conditions. They should also promote a healthy lifestyle at work by promoting sport activities, healthy eating, drinking, recovery and sleep.


DuPont” Occupational Health and Safety Professionals provide services such as a health checkup, information on resilience and ergonomics. The company also encourages and subsidises employees’ sport activities throughout the company. In addition, many sites organise “wellness days” to raise employees’ awareness of the value of exercise, diet and lifestyle.


3. Encourage a work / life balance

Occupational Health Experts should actively work with employees and employers to adapt the type and timing of work to their age and physical conditions.

In a team, managers will have to keep adapting the work balance within their team based on numerous changing issues such as health, disabilities and gender. Age should just be one more item to consider when managing a diverse workforce. According to the Swiss Confederation Study into people working after retirement age, an influential factor in their decision to continue working is the flexibility of working hours. DuPont, for example, has programmes that allow for flexibility of working hours and location, thus allowing for a healthy work / life balance.

This and other adaptable workplace policies make it possible to accommodate older workers’ needs and help them cope with their workload.


4. Continue education and training throughout an employee’s career

In order to keep updating skills and competencies, training – on the job as well as off the job – has to be planned and adapted to different learning paths for younger and older workers. If a company can maintain the mental activity of their employees by training them regularly throughout their career, they are likely to continue learning over their lifetime of work.“Many employers are still searching for the young, dynamic employees with 20 years professional experience, but today’s labour market cannot supply them”, Mr Augsten concludes. “If we can hold onto the skills of older workers, why wouldn’t we?”


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References


[1] Toujours plus de Seniors Travaillent, Tribune de Genève, 8 Octobre 2012, http://www.tdg.ch/vivre/societe/toujours-seniors-travaillent/story/16917980

[2] Promoting active ageing in the workplace, EU-OSHA, http://osha.europa.eu/en/publications/articles/promoting-active-ageing-in-the-workplace/view

[3] For Older Workers, Here Is Where the Jobs Will Be, The Wall Street Journal, October 22, 2012 http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10000872396390443854204578060534215611750.html

[4] Working better for longer, European Agency for Safety and Health, September 25th, http://osha.europa.eu/en/publications/articles/active-ageing-working-better-for-longer/view, p.2

[5] “Départ à la retraite et démographie: une étude révèle une tendance et une disposition à travailler plus longtemps”. Press Release, Swiss Confederation, October 8th, 2012 http://www.news.admin.ch/dokumentation/00002/00015/?lang=fr&msg-id=46218

[6] EU-OSHA, Promoting active ageing in the workplace, p. 67 Safe and Healthy, a Guide to Managing an Aging Workforce, Government of Alberta, 2006 http://alis.alberta.ca/pdf/cshop/safehealthy.pdf, p. 6

[8] “Départ à la retraite et démographie: une étude révèle une tendance et une disposition à travailler plus longtemps”. Press Release, Swiss Confederation, October 8th, 2012 http://www.news.admin.ch/dokumentation/00002/00015/?lang=fr&msg-id=46218

[9] Safe and Healthy, a Guide to Managing an Aging Workforce, Government of Alberta, 2006 http://alis.alberta.ca/pdf/cshop/safehealthy.pdf, p. 15

Bibliography

  • Active Ageing and solidarity between generations, a statistical portrait of the European Union 2012, Eurostat http://epp.eurostat.ec.europa.eu/cache/ITY_OFFPUB/KS-EP-11-001/EN/KS-EP-11-001-EN.PDF
  • http://ec.europa.eu/public_opinion/archives/ebs/ebs_378_en.pdf
  • Promoting active ageing in the workplace http://osha.europa.eu/en/publications/articles/promoting-active-ageing-in-the-workplace/view
  • Working better for longer, European Agency for Safety and Health, September 25th, http://osha.europa.eu/en/publications/articles/active-ageing-working-better-for-longer/view
  • Ageing Workers, http://osha.europa.eu/en/priority_groups/ageingworkers EU-OSHA backs European Year for Active Ageing, Press Release Oct 1st, 2012 http://osha.europa.eu/en/press/press-releases/eu-osha-backs-european-year-for-active-ageing
  • Toujours plus de Seniors Travaillent, Tribune de Genève, 8 Octobre 2012, http://www.tdg.ch/vivre/societe/toujours-seniors-travaillent/story/16917980
  • Safe and Healthy, A guide to managing an Aging workforce http://alis.alberta.ca/pdf/cshop/safehealthy.pdf