aging population

A recent U.S. study outlines the implications of an aging population in the workplace. The study discusses benefits, safety concerns, and discriminatory attitudes towards older adults that continue to pursue full-time work well after their retirement years.

The older adult demographic has grown globally in the past decade and many of these individuals are choosing to delay retirement and continue working full-time into their retirement years. The Department of Labor reports that 12.5% (9 million) of older adults in America are continuing to work full-time hours. With the simultaneous aging on a global scale, society must adapt to this changing workforce demographic. A recent data review sought to determine the implications of older adults continuing their engagement in full-time work in the upcoming years.

These findings, published in Workplace Health & Safety, emphasized discussions around the benefits of retaining older adults in the workforce, potential occupational health concerns that increase amongst older adult workers, and the issue of ageism that represents a barrier to sustained full-time employment. Due to the economic climate, cost of living, and need for additional health insurance coverage in old age, young-older adults willingly prolong retirement to prepare for these changes.

Benefits of Older Adults in the Workplace

Many organizations retain their older workers because they are incredibly resourceful. These long-term workers can provide organizations with an expert opinion and they can train prospective employees. They can also provide the human resources department with hiring strategies that select prospects depending on whether they support the organization’s values. In comparison to younger workers, older adult workers report higher emotional regulation, work motivation, and job satisfaction. Counter-productive work behaviours, including tardiness, absenteeism, and aggression are also less identified among the older adult in comparison to younger workers.

Challenges in the Workplace

Older adults also face challenges with workplace involvement as the prevalence of multimorbidities and workplace injuries increases. Multimorbidities occur when an individual is diagnosed with more than one chronic disease, including depression, hypertension, diabetes, Alzheimer’s disease, along with others. An accumulation of these conditions may result in physical and psychological changes that compromise workplace performance.

Normal age-related decline can also increase one’s likelihood of experiencing a workplace injury with a longer recovery time in comparison to younger workers. For example, due to decreased bone and muscle mass, an older adult that falls will likely result in a bone fracture or fatality. Older adults also have the highest fatal injury rate, at about nine people for every 100,000 workers in comparison to an all-age comparison of about three people for every 100,000 workers.

Ageist Attitudes

Ageist attitudes have also discriminated against encouraging older adults to continue their involvement in the workforce. Ageism is a term used to describe negative, discriminatory attitudes displaced against individuals based on their age. To reduce ageist attitudes in the workplace, the U.S. Congress signed the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) to prohibit discrimination against anybody over 40. This Act protects older adults from not getting hired on the basis of age, getting fired, receiving a negative job evaluation, delaying promotion, or being laid off on the basis of age. As such, the government also acknowledges the changing workforce demographic and has implemented Acts to protect an older adults’ rights and freedoms.

A Need to Accommodate Older Adults in the Workforce

These study findings outline society’s need to accommodate the older adult workforce in the forthcoming years. Employers and organizations should recognize this increase in workforce age and understand the benefits of retaining older workers. Employers should also understand the potential safety concerns that may arise with continued older adult employment and observe discriminatory ageist issues in the workplace. Healthcare organizations, policy makers, and government officials can use this study to create a safe work environment that accommodates physical, psychological, and environmental needs for all.

Written by Jennifer Kaitlyn Chiu, BA (Hons)

Reference: White, M. S., Burns, C., & Conlon, H. A. (2018). The Impact of an Aging Population in the Workplace. Workplace Health and Safety. DOI: 10.1177/2165079917752191.

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