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How should businesses support an ageing workforce?

At a glance

  • Businesses should ensure their health and wellbeing strategies are aligned with the specific needs of their workforces
  • To plan for the future, they should also be aware of key demographic trends, such as the increase in people living and working for longer
  • By 2025, one in three workers will be aged 50 or over

People in the UK are living and working longer. According to the Office for National Statistics, employment rates for people aged 50-64 increased by almost one-third between 1993 and 2018, and doubled for the over-65s.

By 2025, it is predicted that one in three workers will be aged 50 or over. Businesses of all sizes and sectors should be aware of the particular needs an ageing workforce presents, and what kind of support they should be providing to meet those needs.

For example, The Work Foundation says around one in three people of working age have a long-term health condition that affects or could affect their work. That figure rises to 44% for 45-64 year-olds, with older people in particular more likely to suffer from musculoskeletal conditions.

Supporting older employees’ health and wellbeing

Despite these statistics, a recent survey of 500 UK employers found only one-fifth are actively discussing the ageing workforce as part of their business strategy. Nearly one-quarter (24%) said their organisation was unprepared for this demographic shift.

“Nationally, we are yet to witness the full impact of the increased age demographic. However, businesses should be mindful of this emerging reality,” says Andrea Steer, Senior Risk Consultant, Casualty Practice, Zurich.

The importance of knowing your workforce

In order to develop effective employee health and wellbeing strategies, businesses should first ensure they fully understand the structure of their workforce, for example what is the gender split, what proportion of workers are aged 50 or older, and how might different groups have different needs.

Businesses should also consider what other sources of information they can use to help them tailor their health and wellbeing strategies. For example, the results of employee wellbeing or satisfaction surveys, occupational health or sickness absence trends, as well as personal development reviews, can provide actionable insights to improve employees’ working experiences.

“Whatever the size of your workforce, understanding your employee profile is key to building an effective workforce wellbeing strategy,” says Andrea.

Businesses should also carefully consider the needs of employees with physical or mental health conditions, and how they could be affected by the demands of their job.

Employers have a duty to make any reasonable adjustments necessary to enable their employees to do their job. This could involve measures such as making adjustments to their work area, the tasks being performed or adjusting working hours. Utilising specialist services such as occupational health can help employers make informed decisions on how best to support workers who may have specific needs or requirements.

A failure to provide appropriate support could increase the risk of employers’ liability claims.

“The challenges from a risk perspective lie in ensuring employees are fit and well to carry out the work they are employed to do,” says Andrea. “That means recognising them as individuals, including their changing health picture.

“Employers who understand the specific mental or physical demands of a particular job role are better placed to assess whether meeting these demands is sustainable for a particular worker from a health, safety and wellbeing perspective.”

Supporting employees with caring responsibilities

More than three million people juggle care with work, according to Carers UK, and older workers are more likely to have caring responsibilities.

Andrea says: “People aged fifty-plus often find themselves in the position of being ‘sandwich’ carers, where they are responsible for caring for both elderly relatives and children. The dual impact on individuals, both emotionally and financially, should not be underestimated.”

Businesses should consider how they can support employees who care for others, for example by offering flexible working. 

Providing older workers with opportunities to progress

Research by the Centre For Ageing Better found one-fifth of employees aged 50 or over feel others consider them less capable because of their age.

Andrea says: “Sadly, older workers can find themselves overlooked for development opportunities, even though they may be planning to work for many more years and may still have a desire to progress in their professional career.”

By 2025, it is estimated there will be an extra one million workers aged over 50, while the number of workers under 30 is predicted to decrease by 300,000. “Investing in skills development for older workers, with their wealth of knowledge, will be key to businesses’ future success,” says Andrea.

“By understanding the needs of older employees, businesses can create healthier, happier workplaces and improve productivity, as well as reducing the risk of employers’ liability claims.”

For more information, please speak with your local Zurich contact.

Image © Getty

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