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How to successfully support an ageing workforce

11 Apr 2019 By Brian Hall

With one in seven workers now over the age of 65, Brian Hall advises how businesses can best consider the needs of older employees

Open the pages of any business magazine and there is likely to be an article on the millennial workforce – what they need from their employer, the benefits of millennials in business. But what about the benefits of an ageing workforce?

There are now more than 1.2 million workers aged over 65, and almost one in seven is part of this age group. With state pension age continuing to rise, the lifecycle of employees is changing. 

Employees in their 50s, 60s and 70s are a valuable asset to any business. Living through periods of enormous change means that they have had to be exceptionally resilient. They’ve adapted to the new demands of working, different approaches to business, and worked through various technological changes. This generation of ‘baby boomers’ have immense experience and knowledge to pass on to their colleagues.  

Although an ageing workforce brings more experience to an organisation, it isn’t without its downfalls. The wear and tear from decades of work takes its toll physically, and the likelihood of serious illness still increases with age. 

In order to keep these employees in work, employers should consider their specific needs. I would recommend that organisations look into the following key benefit areas for an ageing workforce. 

Sick pay

Older workers are more susceptible to work-related musculoskeletal conditions, such as back pain or arthritis, than younger workers. Employees in physical roles may find it harder to carry out tasks that were once routine, and injuries may take longer to recover from. 

Around 75 per cent of over 50s have a chronic illness, such as high blood pressure or diabetes. Although these can often be self-managed via lifestyle changes, older employees can be more likely to have higher levels of sickness absence than their younger counterparts. 

Employers can offer comprehensive sick pay, or if this isn’t possible, offer an employee-funded sick pay scheme. By practising early intervention and engaging occupational health early on, employers can help to prevent injuries or illnesses turning into more serious, prolonged problems. 

Cancer

Although cancer doesn’t discriminate against age, it’s still primarily a disease that affects older people. Nearly two thirds (65.2 per cent) of the total cancers registered in England in 2015 were diagnosed in people aged 65 or over.

As the workforce demographic changes, the number of people living with cancer in the workplace will only rise. Already, this figure is projected to be more than 1 million employees by 2030, according to the cancer charity Maggies. There are various cancer policies that employers can consider offering to employees – and this doesn’t just benefit an ageing workforce.

Mental health

The ageing workforce has seen a significant rise in the ‘sandwich generation’ – working people who are having to look after their children and their ageing parents simultaneously. Problems or issues that arise from added pressures at home can impact negatively on their mental health. 

Having grown up in an era that encouraged a ‘stiff upper lip’ – where mental health issues were seen as a weakness – many keep silent about their problems. Providing mental health support, such as resilience training or mental health first aiders, isn’t just beneficial for young employees coming into the business world – it can also help many older employees manage their mental wellbeing. 

In order for employers to get their wellbeing strategy right, they should first consider the differences in their workforce. Different age groups need and want different things – so there’s no ‘one size fits all’ approach to employee wellbeing. 

It’s no secret that the workforce is ageing. By taking into consideration the varying needs of their employees, employers can best implement a wellbeing strategy that is inclusive – in return getting the best out of workers from all age groups. 

Brian Hall is chief commercial officer at BHSF

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