The essential ingredients of a physical health strategy for an ageing workforce
Contrary to stereotypes, older workers aren’t all exhausted, unproductive, obsessed with niggles, aches and pains: basically counting down the days to retirement. We’re all living and working longer these days. That’s a given. So, it’s important to face up to and question stereotypes, creating workplaces that are supportive of people at all ages and where everyone is accepted for themselves.
According to a study1 by the London Business School, it’s actually the older who are working hardest to keep fit. About half of those under 45 actively try to keep fit, rising continuously across the ages with a peak of 71 per cent for those aged over 70.
The study also found no evidence that with age comes exhaustion at work and therefore a lowering of productivity. In fact, more people under the age of 45 (43 per cent) said they were exhausted than those over 45 (35 per cent) – the least exhausted were those over 60.
Finally, older people don’t necessarily want to slow down. While more than half of those aged 46 to 60 want to slow down, only 39 per cent of those over 60 and less than 20 per cent of those aged 70+ said they want to slow down.
Now we’ve quelled those stereotypes, let’s look at the real extent and impact of an ageing population.
Those aged 50-64 now outnumber those aged 25-34. The number of active 16-17 year olds has nearly halved. The number of active 65+ has more than doubled2.
The State Pension Age (SPA) has remained at 65 for men and 60 for women for many years. Over the next decade it will start to increase slowly and will be linked to life expectancy when it reaches 67 in 2028.
The major implications of all this can be summarised as follows: for employers, a rising dependency ratio and skills shortages; for government, the challenge to fund more health, care and pensions for less; for workers, the need to face some tough life decisions before reaching the golden years. It’s in the interests of employers, and of course society at large, to encourage people to stay in work for longer.
How to approach a physical health strategy
- Review your risk assessment if anything significant changes, not just when an employee reaches a certain age.
As part of this, think about what activities older workers do and consider what changes are needed. For example, introducing opportunities for older workers to choose to move to other types of work.
- Remember that normal age-related changes can be both positive and negative.
Don’t assume that certain jobs are physically too demanding for older workers. For example, many jobs are supported by technology, which can absorb the physical strain if necessary. It’s worth noting here that discrimination in respect of age is different from all other forms of direct discrimination in that it can be justifiable if it is a proportionate means of achieving a legitimate end, such as considering changes to work that may be needed to ensure older workers can remain in the workforce3.
- Promote preventative healthcare strategies to help prevent physical decline.
As all insurer’s know, age is the single biggest determinant of someone becoming ill and absent from work. As the workforce ages, we’ll naturally experience more absence and therefore more Group Income Protection claims. However, our health in later life is affected by our health behaviour earlier in life. Ensuring a focus on wellness and preventative strategies at all ages - and in turn helping prevent long-term absences - could go a long way to helping counteract the costs associated with inevitable chronic complaints. A preventative approach needn’t involve additional spend. Make more use of all the added-value wellbeing services that come with your Group Income Protection, Group Life and Private Medical Insurance policies. These might include anything from Employee Assistance Programmes and second medical opinion services to funding support for targeted initiatives in areas such as mental health resilience training, financial education and health assessments.
- Ensure good health and safety practices.
As employee physical capabilities change, work also has to be changed to compensate. Think about how your business operates and how older workers could play a part in helping to improve how you manage health and safety risks. This might include having older workers working alongside colleagues in structured programmes, to capture knowledge and learn from their experience. This is something that our vocational rehabilitation and case management partner Health & Case Management (HCML) has initiated. Recognising the strain on statutory health and care services associated with the greater number of older individuals and, running parallel to this, the growing demand for vocational rehabilitation professionals, the provider launched the HCML Academy in 2017 to “provide a forum for the sharing of knowledge and experience between the true titans of the case management world and those younger case managers who will be its future champions”.
- Facilitate the return of workers after sickness
Partner with group risk providers that can support complex absence: stress, anxiety, depression, work related stress and back pain. This kind of support will help prevent the kind of knock-on effects associated with long-term sickness, such as mental health issues, social exclusion and early exit from the labour market. Insurers often work with vocational rehabilitation experts who will help you look at making use of all the services available as part of personalised care pathways.
The author is Colin Hawes, Head of Group Income Protection Claims & Medical Underwriting at Generali Employee Benefits UK.
This article is provided by Generali UK Branch.
1 Our assumptions about old and young workers are wrong, Harvard Business Review, 2016 https://hbr.org/2016/11/our-assumptions-about-old-and-young-workers-are-wrong referencing The 100 year life: living and working in an age of longevity, a study by Lynda Gratton & Andrew Scott (professors at The London Business School)
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