How to achieve a thriving ageing workforce 

Mature man standing in a workshop

Although the traditional and informal retirement age in Australia has been 65 years of age, the proportion of people in the labour force aged 65 years and over has been steadily increasing.*

From 2006 to 2016, the proportion of people in the labour force aged 55 and over increased by 13%.

What considerations should employers be thinking about to keep these workers safe and productive in their extended careers?

WorkCover Queensland Industry Manager John Kinnane says that while the benefits of an older workforce are clear, employers need to consider the different needs of older workers and how best to support them by providing a safe work environment with a focus on health and wellbeing and injury management.*

“Older workers may be more vulnerable to certain kinds of injuries, less physically fit than younger workers, and more susceptible to fatigue at work”.

“To avoid more severe work-related injuries, longer rehabilitation and greater lost work time, employers should ensure they have appropriate workplace health and safety procedures in place and relevant suitable duties available for injured older workers,” John said.**

Mature woman at work typing on computer

Top 10 tips for success with an ageing workforce

So how can employers better support the 13 per cent of the working population aged 65 and over who are currently in productive work?

Here's 10 tips for employers on how you can provide the safest and most productive workplace environments.**

  1. Ensure that a person (regardless of age) is suited to the task and can carry it out safely – pre-employment assessments and manual handling training is key.
  2. Adapt duties to suit older workers’ needs and abilities. Take BMW for example. When they realised that many of its workers who were the company’s most experienced at developing new production lines were becoming too old to physically cope with the demands of their jobs, it introduced simple and inexpensive modifications such as brighter lighting, easier-to-read computer screens and seats so workers did not have to stand all day.
  3. Rotate physically demanding or repetitive tasks.
  4. Provide ergonomically designed workstations for all workers – one of the further modifications made by BMW was height-adjustable workbenches. Xerox introduced a training program to teach better ergonomic health strategies and raise awareness about the normal aging process.
  5. Train all workers in injury prevention strategies – note that training requirements for older workers may need to be tailored to an older workforce. Unilever UK has instituted a wellness program designed to prolong the working life of its older employees.
  6. Developing flexible employment opportunities and conditions for older workers to accommodate their needs. This may include redesigning jobs to accommodate physical restraints, offering job-share arrangements and implementing phased retirement options.
  7. Re-skilling older workers and investing in education programs that assist older workers to be more efficient and to harness new ways of working (such as utilising technology and social media).
  8. Involve workers and tell them what is being done to reduce risks: Encourage two-way communication with workers so that they feel comfortable in discussing any potential issues.
  9. Employers should think seriously about the practicalities of working in multigenerational teams, and put in place strategies to both deal with potential intergenerational conflicts, and facilitate knowledge transfer between generations that are working together.
  10. Have suitable duties available for injured workers to help them get back to work sooner and avoid long periods of time off work, which can result in feelings of alienation from the workforce. Job Dictionaries and Job Task Analysis for your workplace can assist here.

Making these changes and subsequently reducing the risk of illness and injury for older workers has been shown to increase workplace productivity, reduce absenteeism and staff turnover, and reduce the risk of compensation claims.

Following its ergonomic changes, BMW has seen productivity jump 7% and its assembly line defect rate drop to zero.***

Employers with an ageing workforce should develop targeted risk management programs to reduce the risk of injury in older workers.****

References

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