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Are British businesses supporting older workers?

By Rosie Hewitt
Rehabilitation and Delegated Claims Manager

The three years following the abolition of the Default Retirement Age (DRA) have seen a marked increase in the number of people aged 65 or over who continue to work. According to the latest Office for National Statistics report, there are currently 1.13 million workers in the UK, aged 65 or over, compared to 874,000 in 2011, when the DRA was finally phased out...

This trajectory is set to continue. Currently in Britain there is a higher proportion of older people than at any time in recent history, with one in every six people aged over 65. By 2033 this figure is anticipated to rise to nearly one in four. Adding to this the expectation that one in every three newborns will now live to be a hundred, the demographic implications are clear.

What does this mean for employers and is the subject even on their radar? QBE commissioned research in November 2014 among Senior HR decision makers in businesses across the UK to understand the extent to which, if at all, employers monitor and consider the age of their workforce.

It was striking to find that 60 per cent of respondents did not know the percentage of their workforce who were above the state pension age; equally startling, 56 per cent did not know how many of their current employees over 60 were planning to continue working beyond the state pension age.

Protecting the health and wellbeing of older workers

This lack of awareness gives grounds for concern. From an employee health and wellbeing perspective, it could signal that Britain’s employers do not have the policies and support services in place that reflect the needs of all their workers. This exposes older employees to work-related injury or illness and companies to the financial consequences of employee absence.

Age is not an indication of an employee’s capability nor does it in itself determine their physical or mental ability to do a job but some tweaks to existing health and wellbeing programmes will likely be required to ensure they are as comprehensive as possible.

What can employers do?

Risk management: There is little conclusive evidence that older workers have an increased risk of occupational accidents than younger workers, however accidents involving older workers are more likely to result in more serious injuries and recuperation times may be longer. As such, the importance of accident and illness prevention is even more pronounced.

Adjustments to health and safety practices may be required, particularly if a role involves physical effort.

Healthcare services: how are the occupational health and rehabilitation services available to employees configured to meet the needs of older workers? As we age, diabetes, arthritis and cardiovascular disease become more prevalent. Early diagnosis can hugely impact the management of these conditions and a robust employee wellbeing programme should feature regular age-relevant health checks.

Prevailing attitudes towards older workers: If negative perceptions or behaviours exist within a business, these should be addressed as part of an organisation’s overall diversity and inclusion programme.

Training: People managers should be provided with suitable training to help them understand the needs and challenges of older workers and what additional support they can seek themselves and can offer to their direct reports.

Working practices: What scope exists to provide flexible working options to older workers and how does this fit within a company’s overall approach to flexible working?

Supporting the health and wellbeing of an older workforce benefits society as a whole and ensures that vital knowledge and experience is retained in the workplace. The amendments required to existing employee wellbeing programmes are not onerous but they cannot be effectively implemented until employers fully understand the demographics of their workforce and how they are changing.

For more information, please see our Managing the risks of an ageing workforce report

Rosie Hewitt is rehabilitation manager at QBE

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Rosie Hewitt

Rosie Hewitt

Rehabilitation and Delegated Claims Manager