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21 Apr 2023

How tailored healthcare can give organisations an edge with older talent

The Chancellor, Jeremy Hunt, is trying to entice older workers back into the labour market — and he is not alone. Here's what employers need to consider for their healthcare policies.

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Budget airline easyJet is actively seeking empty-nest older adults who want to train to become flight attendants.

And research for LinkedIn found that almost three quarters of UK business leaders have tried to coax retirees back into the workplace.

Our health needs evolve with age, and our risk of a wide range of conditions increases as we get older. So, offering tailored healthcare and support will give organisations an edge when recruiting and retaining older talent.

Healthcare needs

Bupa data shows that musculoskeletal (MSK) issues are the most common reason for claims from members over the age of 50.

This is followed by:

  • cancer
  • conditions that affect the digestive system
  • problems with the heart and circulatory system
  • urology (health of the urinary tract which includes kidneys, bladder, ureter and urethra – the tubes that carry urine)

By comparison, MSK problems associated with traumatic injuries are the most common reason for claims in 20- to 29-year-olds.

This is followed by:

  • mental health
  • conditions that affect the digestive system
  • obstetrics and gynaecology (pregnancy, childbirth and reproductive health)
  • respiratory system diseases (lungs and airways)

Dr Naveen Puri, associate clinical director at Bupa says: “Having timely access to investigations and treatments is very important to older employees. Especially where there may be long waiting times, such as for joint replacement.

“Resources to help skilled and experienced team members maintain their health can also incentivise them to stay in post.

“This benefits individual members, and it benefits organisations.”

Brand benefits of genuine inclusion

The Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) points out: “Age-diverse teams can benefit both individuals and their organisations. Genuine inclusion boosts workforce diversity, helps address skill and labour shortages and benefits an organisation’s reputation and brand.”

The economic importance of this demographic is underlined by the latest Office for National Statistics (ONS) data, which shows that over-50s make up 34% of the workforce. This is despite a surge in the number of older workers taking early retirement, particularly at the start of the pandemic.

This exodus is obvious from statistics on economic inactivity — the percentage of older people who are not in work and not seeking work. A report from the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS), calculates that this climbed from 35.4% in the first quarter of 2020, 36.5% in the first quarter of 2022.

Importance of over-50s

The think-tank Demos identifies poor health as the main reason for over-50s leaving the workforce.

Dr Naveen says: “These statistics highlight the significant role this demographic has in the workplace. And the importance of understanding the shifts in attitudes to work we are seeing in the wake of the pandemic.

“It’s undoubtedly a factor. But, conversely, access to workplace health and wellbeing support may also influence decisions to stay. Particularly as the demand for health and wellbeing services is growing.

“It’s important that employers look at the design of their roles, and how these can be better considered for a range of different workers, with different needs.

“Much is said about the use of language. For example, could using ‘energetic’ in job descriptions alienate older workers? Employers also need to consider people in their 50s with caring responsibilities for elderly parents. They are likely to have less appetite to travel or work in high stress environments.”

Research by the IFS suggests older workers leaving work is increasingly a lifestyle choice. It reflects a reset in priorities and changes in the nature of work, which make it less appealing.

Ageism is also an issue. A survey of more than 1,000 managers for the Chartered Management Institute (CMI) found that only 42% were open to hiring people aged 50 to 64 “to a large extent”.

The need for leadership

CMI CEO Ann Francke says: “Employers complaining of severe labour shortages while also admitting that they are hesitant to bring in older workers points to both cultural and leadership failings in businesses of all sizes. That needs to change.” 

Demos identifies four ways for organisations to address this
1.    Support older people with health conditions to stay in work.
2.    Help older people with health conditions return to work.
3.    Improve the quality and design of work and the workplace to support the health of older workers.
4.    Develop prevention strategies to promote good health over the course of people’s lives.

Bupa’s purpose

Dr Naveen says: “A one-size-fits-all approach won’t work as health needs shift dramatically in our 50s and 60s. The engagement and support you offer should reflect this.

“As they approach retirement age, one in four workers is getting to the point where a health condition limits what they can do.

“Many will be living with chronic conditions such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease and MSK problems. The risk of developing cancer also rises with age.”

However, Bupa data shows that mental health becomes less of an issue, and ranks ninth in claims by over 50s. Demand for respiratory and gynaecological care also falls.

Dr Naveen says: “Having the right policies and line management in place is also critical in terms of recruiting and retaining talent.” There are other factors to consider, too.
“Older people may want to work fewer hours, and due to caring responsibilities, may value more flexibility than younger team members.”

Training matters

Dr Naveen also points out: “It’s also a mistake to think this demographic has less interest in ongoing training and career development.”

As the CIPD points out, “The impact of technology on jobs will increasingly mean workers will need to upskill or reskill at different stages of their career.”

As Tim Ringo, client executive director of the HR consultancy Lace Partners, says: “Thanks to a quiet revolution in health sciences and personal wellness, many people in their 50s, 60s, 70s and even 80s are not only healthy, they are mentally alert and able. And they have a desire to stay busy.”  

Policies and practices

The CIPD believes, “It is crucial that employers establish the people management policies and practices needed to recruit, train and retain an age diverse workforce. They need to harness the skills and experience older workers have effectively.”

Dr Naveen says: “There is a lot that employers can do to support the health and wellbeing of older employees. And this will have a positive impact across organisations as a whole."

These include:

  • promoting healthy lifestyle and behaviour choices
  • signposting resources to maintain health and wellbeing
  • providing health assessments
  • making reasonable adjustments to help valued colleagues continue to work.

In partnership with Bupa

Bupa's purpose is helping people live longer, healthier, happier lives and making a better world.

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