MT Expert: Why workers' health is your problem

One in 10 workers are now over 65. Chris Jessop explains how - and why - you should take an interest in their wellbeing.

by Chris Jessop
Last Updated: 09 Oct 2013

Official figures published this week showed that one in 10 over-65s are still employed - that adds up to over a million. Commentators are divided over whether our new, silver-tinged workforce is staying in work because they have to or because their financial situation is forcing them to - but what’s certain is that the percentage of employees over the age of 65 is growing.

With that in mind, it’s worth planning ahead. Those companies that took action in the post austerity years from 2015 will be reaping the benefits of an older but healthier, more productive workforce.  

Encourage a healthy workplace
Look at the overall health of your workforce and encourage a healthy lifestyle, diet and regular exercise. This can be achieved through simple, low cost measures such as introducing free healthy snacks, removing sugary drinks from vending machines, making water coolers easily accessible, offering lifestyle assessments, bringing in a cycle to work scheme or offering group discounts to the local gym. These simple measures can go a long way to ensuring your workers are ‘fit to age’.

Manage the health of ‘at risk’ employees
Having started to tackle the general health of the workforce, identify those employees who are at higher health risk because of their lifestyle decisions and support them in making behavioural changes around diet, exercise, alcohol intake and smoking. The new wave of online solutions offers a cost-effective and compelling way of delivering this. Lifestyle related issues are your single biggest challenge and without positive intervention, your bottom line could suffer as long term illnesses take an increasing toll on performance and productivity.

Minimise stress
Avoid unrealistic deadlines, encourage lunch breaks and leaving the office on time.  Visibly acknowledge and reward good performance and cultivate a friendly and supportive work environment. These measures can increase the resilience of employees to cope with stress when things get tough at work. Depression is the main cause of sickness absence. Encouraging people to cope well under pressure and bounce back to their normal selves very quickly is an important characteristic in the ever charged office environment and particularly as we grow older.

Be flexible
The years of everyone arriving at 9 and leaving at 5.30 are long gone. With your older workforce in mind, consider the benefits of flexible hours and part-time working which work well for people in their 60s and 70s who want to remain in the workforce, albeit on a reduced basis. Consider mentoring roles within your older workforce, leveraging their years of experience to support and guide younger workers.

Remember that getting older needn't mean poorer health.  By taking positive steps now to improve health and fitness, workers can continue to perform well into their 80s, which is good for them and good for your business. With the number of older workers growing apace, employee health must become a priority and play its rightful part in business continuity management.

- Chris Jessop is managing director, UK and Europe, of Axa PPP Healthcare's health services division

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