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older worker wearing hard hat

Work and health in later life

Our workforce, like the population at large, is ageing. This is dramatically changing the structure of our workforce, as we have more clients, colleagues and customers in older age brackets.

14% of workplaces already have the majority of their employees aged over 50. With demographic trends continuing, and a projected gap in the number of younger workers entering the job market, these numbers will continue to rise.

Employment in later life can be hugely beneficial to both employees and employers alike. For the individual, work is important financially, but is also a major source of social connections. It can give a sense of purpose, and keep people physically and mentally active. But the key here is that this work needs to be fulfilling and suit the needs of the individual.

For employers, the business case for recruiting and retaining older workers is clear. Failure to do so will mean that employers may soon face labour supply shortages. Evidence shows that retaining people aged 50 and over in employment does not mean fewer jobs for young people. It also looks increasingly unlikely that we will be able to fill this gap with migrant workers in the future.

The problem

Our report, Fulfilling work: what do older workers value about work and why? highlighted that older workers want the same things from employment as their younger counterparts. If workers of all ages want to be able to make a meaningful contribution to an interesting role, which provides them with social interactions, the opportunity to learn and progress, and be able to contribute their ideas and experience, why isn’t this happening?

One of the main differences between older and younger workers is that people aged 50 and over are more likely to suffer from health conditions, with 44% of people aged 55-64 having at least one long-term condition. Currently, less than half of people are still in work the year before they reach State Pension age, and ill health is the single biggest factor that pushes older workers out. Without flexible or preventive measures in place, it becomes increasing likely that this group of people will continue to be pushed out.

In many cases the type work people are doing can be a factor in either causing or worsening health conditions. For example, for those who work in the construction sector, ill health is the major reason that men aged 50-64 leave work – greater than that of redundancy and retirement combined.

What needs to be done?

While poor health isn’t inevitable as we age, there is an increase in the rates of long term health conditions with age. Almost half of the 3.7 million disabled people not in work are aged 50-64. Most disabled people aged 16-49 are in work, while most disabled people aged 50-64 are not.

Employers need to ensure that they are addressing the requirements of their employees, offering access to flexible working arrangements and taking preventive action to support good health in the workplace. Regular workplace assessments must become common place, and not just in order to tick a box.

Employees themselves also have a role to play. Many of us are inclined to believe that aches and pains are just a part of getting older. This stereotype of ‘inevitable decline’ with age contributes to both employers and employees failing to take early action. And although many slow-onset conditions, such as musculoskeletal conditions, are more common as we age, being aware of them and discussing any problems with employers provides an opportunity to identify deterioration early on and take preventive action.

Making use of the opportunities that arise from an ageing workforce, by providing more support and flexibility make for a happier, healthier and productive workforce. It also allows older workers to share skills and experience with their younger colleague. It has been shown that organisations who effectively manage mixed-age teams have staff who work well together towards common goals and form strong bonds with each other.

Although many employers now understand the need to support their older workers, there is still a lack of evidence-based guidance on how to do this. We are currently carrying out employer-focused research to better understand how we can make workplaces more age-friendly – one strand of which is improving the way that multi-generational workforces work together. We want to use the findings from this research to better inform employers on what works to improve employer practice, and get the full benefits out of an intergenerational workforce.

First published in the Institute and Faculty of Actuaries Intergenerational Fairness series on Health and Care.

 

Patrick Thomson
Senior Programme Manager – Implementation