The population (and workforce) are ageing: the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) estimates that by 2021, 12 million workers will be over the age of 65, combined with 1.3 million fewer workers aged 25–35. The ageing population, along with the removal of the Default Retirement Age (DRA) earlier in 2011, has contributed to a renewed interest in the particular needs of older employees now that people have more choice when to stop working.
Employers are increasingly going to have to develop and implement new working arrangements that take into account the shift in demographic. The motivation of older workers to continue to work could be greatly improved if more attention were paid to both their physical working environments and the way in which they are managed.
In general, older workers are positive about work (something that was demonstrated in a previous blog: ‘Younger employee feeling more stress at work’), and they are generally realistic about their capabilities and aspirations. Certain misconceptions about older workers continue to prevail in some quarters, including the perception held by many that older workers aren’t able to learn new skills, will become ill more often than younger staff, or aren’t sufficiently adaptable to new tasks and environments. These prejudices will have to be tackled as the average age of the workforce continues to increase.
From the perspective of employee health and wellbeing, the ageing workforce and the removal of the DRA have meant that employers may be faced with a completely different set of issues around health at work. By law, employers should be protecting older workers, including carrying out risk assessments and training, and they will need to consider issues such as workplace design and necessary adjustments, flexible working, and regular health checks. For information on how to support older workers in your organisation, and for guidance on fulfilling your legislative responsibilities, call the free Health for Work Adviceline on 0800 0 77 88 44.