Employee health and wellbeing – Older Workers

As I travelled back from work during the recent long, wintry evenings, I often found myself listening to BBC Radio 5Live – to their credit they have been highlighting the plight of many of our elderly folk and loneliness.

The central plank of their recent features were that society has failed to confront the ‘national shame’ of chronic loneliness amongst 800,000 elderly people.

There are clear benefits to offering lonely people companionship and can only imagine that organisations such as the Salvation Army can give people a reason to live again.  However, with increased pressure on Care services, it seems obvious that Government will need to look at several options to counteract this problem.  One option is to raise the pension age for and get the population to re-evaluate their working lives – after all, continued employment past the age of 65 would give people a reason to live longer.

From the standpoint of an employer, this gives them a new set of challenges – how do they continue to employ older workers and ensure that they’re as fit and healthy as possible?

Employers will need to understand that certain illnesses are more common with age as people get older when certain cancers and lifestyle-related diseases such as obesity and the knock-on effects of heart disease and diabetes.

As employers will need to protect their productivity and performance, it is clear that they should be developing strategies that are more pro-actively helping their workforce manage their health and wellbeing. 

With older employees, some medical conditions will be more prevalent than in other age groups.  Health screenings can play a major role in helping employers spot warning signs early on, allowing staff to get the required treatment and ensure that absenteeism is kept to a minimum. This will be fundamentally important to having people in the workplace later on in their lives.

Naturally, as people get older, levels of illness increase. For example, catching cancers early is the one of the main reasons why people are living longer.  However, the focus on older workers should not be at the expense of screening younger ones, because identifying long-term conditions, such as diabetes, is vital for any age group.

Training and development should also be considered to increase older employees’ productivity.  If employers make sure employees have access to training and encourage them to take part in learning new skills, they can help them maintain their cognitive and social abilities.

Overall, an increasingly elderly working population is likely to raise the profile of initiatives such as health screening and wellness programmes over the next couple of decades.  There has been a lot of attention on pensions in the light of the abolition of the default retirement age, but actually we should be paying just as much attention to the whole health and wellness issue. After all, employers have to hang on to older workers because that is where their knowledge will be and if they do not, they will lose their competitive edge.