According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), one in four workers will be age 55 or older by the year 2020. Currently about one in five American workers is 55 or older.
Dr. L. Casey Chosewood, senior medical officer for Total Worker Health at the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), says there is no consistent relationship between aging and work performance, adding, “Although older workers are more likely to have chronic health conditions and physical limitations, these factors are not directly related to decreased work performance in most cases.”
Chosewood says older workers generally have more experience, better relationships with co-workers and report less stress at work.
“A well-designed workplace with positive policies and programs to optimize the health of aging workers benefits everyone,” he says. “When workstations and job tasks are matched to the capacity of each worker, younger or older, everyone benefits. When workplace flexibility is maximized, when work is organized with personal health and well-being principles in mind and when workplace policies consistently are viewed through their health effects on workers, employers and workers both win.”
Chosewood offers the following strategies for preparing your workplace for an older, healthier and safer workforce:
1.) Prioritize workplace flexibility: Workers prefer jobs that offer more flexibility over those that offer more vacation days. To the extent possible, give workers a say in their schedules, work conditions, work organization, work location and work tasks.
2.) Match tasks to abilities: Offer self-paced work, self-directed work breaks and less repetitive tasks.
3.) Avoid prolonged, sedentary work: It’s bad for workers at every age. Consider sit/stand workstations and walking workstations for workers who traditionally sit all day. Provide onsite physical activity opportunities or connections to low-cost community options.
4.) Manage noise hazards, including excessive background noise: Also look at ways of reducing slip/trip hazards and physical hazards, which particularly challenge an aging workforce.
5.) Provide ergonomically friendly work environments: Ergo-friendly workstations, tools, floor surfaces, adjustable seating, better illumination where needed and screens and surfaces with less glare can help not only aging workers, but workers of all ages work more comfortably.
6.) Utilize teams and teamwork strategies for aging-associated problem solving: Workers closest to the problem are often best-equipped to suggest fixes.
7.) Provide health promotion and lifestyle interventions: These include promoting physical activity, healthy meal options, help in quitting smoking, risk factor reduction and screenings, coaching and onsite medical care.
8.) Invest in training and building worker skills and competencies at all age levels: Help older employees adapt to new technologies.
9.) Proactively manage reasonable accommodation and the return-to-work process: Help older workers who have suffered illnesses or injuries get back to working.
10.) Take management skills training: It should include a focus on how to effectively manage a multi-generational workforce.