By Mike Blake, PMI Health Group Director
Over the next decade there will be 3.7 million more workers aged between 50 and state pension age, according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS).
The scrapping of the default retirement age, combined with other factors including shortfalls in pensions and savings provision, is expected to significantly alter the demographic landscape.
This ageing workforce poses real challenges for employers, both in terms of skills development and health and wellbeing.
With half of the UK population between 50 and state pension age suffering long-term health conditions, according to the Department for Work and Pension’s “Fuller Working Lives” report, employee health and wellbeing initiatives have an important role to play in optimising productivity and minimising absence.
The Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) has made it clear that a failure to act strategically to the challenges and opportunities presented by an ageing workforce risks threatening future business performance.
CIPD Public Policy Adviser Dianah Worman has told how companies that take swift action will “gain significant competitive advantage in terms of recruiting and retaining talent and supporting the well-being and engagement of employees of all ages”.
Tackling an ageing workforce calls for discovering the extent of the organisational changes that may be faced. Analysing workforce demographics allows businesses to identify any high-risk positions where ageing staff may pose a challenge in the coming years. These employees may not be able to continue contributing in the same way as they get older but there may be alternative roles where they can make an impact on the business.
The CIPD recommends adopting a flexible approach to all employees to minimise business disruption and ensure all staff can continue to play a role as the face of the workforce changes.
Health screenings offer a good starting point for companies that may not have a grasp on the risk factors affecting their ageing staff. Comprehensive tests carried out by medical professionals can provide insights into everything from lung function and blood pressure to cholesterol, body fat and hearing – flagging up any potential health issues before they become a problem.
Not only does this allow early warnings to be provided in the case of developing conditions but it also allows employees to gain advice on how to improve their general health and wellbeing, reducing the likelihood of illness. If conducted regularly, screenings can be treated as a non-taxable benefit.
Health programmes can work hand-in-hand with screenings to improve the overall wellbeing of employees.
A wide range of possible initiatives can be implemented, including on-site health classes, cycle-to-work schemes, nutritional advice, discounted gym memberships or provision of healthy food and snacks.
All of these work to raise awareness around the issues of good health, providing employees with a strong incentive to lead a healthier lifestyle into their old age.
Health risks can consequently be reduced and better managed with wellbeing schemes having been shown to successfully reduce absenteeism and increase productivity.
Working into older age presents challenges for employees as much as it does for employers.
Difficulties arising from the need to care for elderly relatives or adapting to a shifting office dynamic have the potential to affect daily performance.
According to the TUC’s Age Immaterial study, 49 per cent of women over the age of 50 are caring for a parent. In the longer term, this might lead to stress-related absence, so it is important to establish a support structure for staff.
Flexible working can allow staff to fulfil caring obligations or important healthcare appointments without putting any extra strain on working commitments.
Employee Assistance Programmes (EAPs) meanwhile provide confidential advice, support and counselling to staff with personal or work-related issues. Employees can use services for themselves or their families, helping them to resolve any troubling matters and develop effective coping mechanisms.