The aging workforce (also known as the silver tsunami) refers to the rise in the median age of the workforce in the US and other Western countries.
By 2020, workers aged 55 and over will account for more than 25% of the US labor force. This shift reflects two trends: the overall population is aging and more older people are working longer1.
Companies are faced with increasing responsibilities for the aging workforce in helping address and reduce exposures to injury and illness that affect this particular age group.
What makes this population a special concern for employers?
Greater vulnerability to accidents - When people get older, their physical abilities decline. Older adults tend to exhibit gradual loss in eyesight, hearing, and physical strength. Where exposures in general are similar to all age categories, vulnerability to them increases with age.
Longer accident recovery time - Accidents affecting older workers often require more time to heal. In addition, incidents are more likely to be fatal2. This accentuates the need for employers to be mindful of how best to adapt work conditions to protect workers, as well as explore opportunities for preventative programs that can maintain or build the health of employees through their working life.
Prevalence for disability increases with age - As shown in figure 2, the likelihood of disability increases with age.
Employers take employees being 'fit for the job' often for granted, but for the aging workforce that factor is not a matter of course. Management needs to send out clear messages on prioritizing safety and health and stress the importance of sustainable working abilities. They are in the position to reduce barriers, to enable safe behaviors, and to stimulate healthy habits for all employees, such as:
Healthy food consumption
- Responsible tobacco and alcohol consumption
- Walks, strolls, or stretching exercises to compensate for periods of inactivity
- Stress reducing activities such as yoga
The power of ABC analysis helps to discover the antecedents to wellness behaviors. ABC analysis is a model for understanding and influencing behavior. In the model, B stands for a behavior, A for antecedent (an action or condition that triggers the behavior) and C for consequence (an action or condition that follows a behavior).
Some examples of antecedents to stimulate wellness behaviors include:
- Providing information on the human musculoskeletal system and how regular movement and motion will keep the body in shape
- Organizing 'lunch walks' to stimulate physical movement
- Hosting stand-up meetings to encourage better blood circulation.
Consequences have the most effect when they are experienced as soon, certain, and positive. Wellness behaviors tend to be rewarding already. However, companies can further stimulate and increase the power of consequences. Some examples of measures are:
- Reimbursing costs for healthy foods in canteens
- Participation of management in lunch strolls, so employees can speak out freely with their leadership
- Recognizing employees who participate in wellness activities through work
Wellness behaviors not only benefit the condition of the silver tsunami. At a younger stage in life these behaviors build up and cumulate to a healthy condition later on. Therefore it is in the interest of both the employer and all employees to address wellness and health as a part of working routine.