Today’s workforce is increasingly diverse, particularly in relation to age. For the first time, four generations are working together in the same place at the same time. Americans are working longer for personal preference or out of necessity, meaning employers can no longer rely on employees retiring early or having a steady flow of younger workers. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, by as early as next year, one in 5 workers will be a baby boomer or be over the age of 55, and by 2020, this could increase to one in 4 workers.
The risk of developing a chronic medical condition increases with age and can have significant implications for employer disability and health care costs. However, health risks and chronic disease are more highly associated with increased costs rather than aging itself. It just happens that chronic medical conditions increase as we age, so a person over age 65 is more likely to have one or two medical conditions as compared to his or her younger co-worker.
Older workers are valuable and can provide substantial savings to employers. They tend to have greater institutional knowledge, stronger work ethic, be more cautious on the job, be more likely to follow safety rules and report lower levels of stress and conflict with co-workers. They also tend to be more loyal, which saves employers the time and costs of recruiting and training new employees.
Developing “age-friendly” programs, policies and practices that match the workplace environment with the physical needs and capabilities of older workers is challenging and a one-size-fit all approach will not work. Employers will need to customize and tailor their programs based on the individualized needs of their workforce. Protecting and promoting health and safety as workers age can help maintain productivity as the average age increases and can save money in the long run through reduced injuries and chronic health conditions.
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