Feb 27, 2017

How to keep older workers safe, healthy

Canada can learn from European programs
older electrician

By Diana Vissers

It is no secret that changing demographics means many companies have more older workers than they did before. However, it can be more challenging — and a whole other conversation — to keep older workers healthy and working.

As people age, there is more time to develop chronic physical and psychological health conditions. In Europe, this phenomenon resulted in an increase in workers retiring from the workforce early due to their health. They called it “invalidity pension.” Their solution? Projects were undertaken across Europe to preserve the health of older workers and keep them working longer.

These projects have resulted in significant improvements in “work ability” for older workers and interestingly, also improved work ability for younger workers. Work ability is a measure of how fit you are to keep doing the work you are doing over time. There are many case studies published that serve as excellent examples of how to use a comprehensive wellness program approach to improve the health and engagement of your workforce. 

For example, when the public agencies in Austria noticed the elevated pension usage, they launched a campaign called Fit for the Future. This campaign focused on industries with higher risk for workers retiring early for reduced work ability. A number of things influence your score, including your health, your workplace environment, your job demands and your belief in your work ability.

The Fit for the Future project aimed to keep older workers at work through education, assessment of work ability and provision of targeted interventions to improve work ability scores. The results led the Austrian federal government to set up occupational health clinics across the country where all workers could learn about work ability and gain skills and support to improve their work ability score. Companies used the information to target specific issues that were relevant to their workplace. This program was very successful and results have been published in many reports. They include a healthier workforce, fewer older workers leaving the job and improved work ability for young workers.

Here are the takeaways for corporate leaders:

•Work ability is influenced about 60 per cent by work design, leadership and the work environment.

•Work ability is influenced about 40 per cent by individual worker health factors.

•Addressing both of these areas is necessary for success.

The success of the Austrian projects demonstrate that for workplace wellness programs to be effective, they must be comprehensive, address individual and organizational factors and have strong leadership behind them.