Almost every organization in the country has to supervise, manage, and coordinate workers’ safety. If your organization has older workers performing work that is physically challenging and must have an awareness of safety and health, this article contains valuable advice.
However, even if your organization’s work does not primarily entail physical labor, there still remains a great need to ensure that you have a well-designed workplace with carefully constructed policies in place. These will benefit all of your workers, not just the older ones.
There are both benefits and challenges to the aging of our workforce. Being adaptable and conscientious in understanding their changing needs will go a long way in successfully accommodating older workers. Generally, when we refer to “older workers,” we mean those over age 55. The most common industries representing these employees at a rate of 46% are retail, healthcare, manufacturing, and education.
The Demographics of Today’s Workforce
When your workplace has beneficial policies implemented properly, with buy-in from all levels from workers to top management, you can create a happy, healthy, safe workplace for your entire workforce.
The fact is, the population is aging with fewer younger workers to replace the current ones. And with it, the proportion of older workers has grown and is projected to continue growing as older workers remain in the workforce. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports the number of workers aged 65 and older has increased by over 100% in the past two decades with no signs of slowing down.
Due to various reasons, more and more baby boomers (those born between 1946 and 1964) will stay in the workforce in the coming years instead of retiring when eligible. Some will want the social outlet or value a sense of continued productivity and belonging, or they simply may need continued healthcare benefits or income due to reduced retirement savings. In any case, when older people continue the mental and physical engagement of work, studies show it contributes to a longer life.
Benefits of an Older Workforce
Older workers differ from their younger counterparts in a few ways. Being mindful of these factors will help you run your organization more effectively and keep your entire workforce happier, more engaged, and more productive.
Older workers tend to have a strong work ethic and generally are safer workers; however, some age-related changes need to be considered. Factors that come along with aging could be things like diminished physical, sensory, or cognitive capabilities.
Studies have disproved the myths that older workers have more work-related injuries or absenteeism. They appear to sustain fewer injuries than their younger counterparts, but the injuries they do sustain may be more severe or result in death.
How to Manage a Multigenerational Workforce
Managing an aging workforce requires strategies that will benefit all of the organization’s employees. Creating a supportive work culture for a multigenerational workforce can include:
- A greater knowledge and expertise exchange
- Collective technology training
- Sensitivity toward management of the different cultures and expectations among generations
For example, a worker who has decades of job knowledge and work experience under their belt can transfer some of their expertise to a younger coworker. In turn, the other may impart knowledge on how to use newer methods and technologies to their elders.
Recognize that there may be differences in work attitudes surrounding supervision, communication, training needs, or work habits. Currently, there could be up to four generations working together in one place:
- Baby Boomers
- Generation X (1946-1964)
- Millennials (1981-1994)
- Generation Z (1995-2012)
Fostering an exchange may create better workplace harmony and understanding for all. In turn, those workers will be able to learn from one another. Sometimes training methods need to be adapted to the learning style of a generation.
Ways Your Organization Can Create a Better Workplace for Older Workers
Many solutions are simple and can offer substantial benefits to your teams without much cost.
Offer Flexibility: Employees feel more engaged and remain longer at jobs that they think offer flexibility, such as choice in the schedule, conditions, organization, location, or tasks. Flexible work hours may offer benefits such as the increased chance for employees to maintain their physical health outside of their work hours or to care for dependents.
Encourage Movement: Try to offer different locations for workers to move about during the day, for example, by having workstations that are both standing and sitting or at a community gathering spot. Prolonged sedentary work is unhealthy for all employees, and repetitive work can lead to injuries.
Upgrade Ergonomics: Provide work environments that offer adjustments in seating, illumination, noise level, tools, and other healthier physical options. Preventing workplace injuries through smart ergonomics is not only better financially for a company than dealing with worker injuries; it keeps your workforce safe and healthy and promotes the conscious adoption of safety practices.
Provide Health and Lifestyle Interventions: Classes for healthy living (such as nutrition and eating habits, smoking cessation, or exercise) in addition to health screenings can encourage your employees to include self-care in their practices. A healthier workplace can also promote:
- Physical activity.
- Time off for healthcare visits.
- Encouragement for after-work fitness incentives.
Invest in Training: Building worker skills and competencies will help all workers increase their abilities and promote positive workplace attitudes, contributing to an improved teamwork mentality. Keep your teaching methods fresh and engaging, considering all types of learning styles and creating a shared sense of accomplishment.
Educate Management: Require workforce management skills training for supervisors, particularly for learning effective ways to manage a multigenerational workforce. Management’s understanding of current workplace trends and how to address issues raised by shifting demographics are essential.
Team-Oriented Problem Solving: Create involvement from workers of various levels and age groups. Employees who are engaged in solutions are proven to be happier and more loyal, with higher morale.
Social Support: Manage accommodations for workers returning to work after illness or injuries. Provide a caring workplace and extracurricular activities such as team sports, training, or fun contests or events. Not only will they strengthen bonds among coworkers, but they will also demonstrate a priority on health and wellness by the management.
Be an organization focused on health and safety for all generations by understanding the changing workforce demographics and culture. Make your company one of the best places to work by engaging employees with a variety of opportunities for physical activity and mental stimulation.
Safety and Health Considerations of the Older Worker, Peter B. Rice, MS, CIH, CSP, ClickSafety, Walnut Creek, California
U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, https://www.bls.gov/