10 Ways to Celebrate Older American Workers
You’ve heard the phrase, “age is just a number.” Older generations have been embracing this mentality and keeping themselves active long after traditional retirement years. Age has started to matter less as more workers are delaying retirement and staying in the workforce. But what does this mean for business owners? It’s great that older employees are maintaining their employment and staying active, but does having an aging workforce create new demands for businesses? What challenges do employers face as their workers begin to age? For many companies, the age of their employees is more than just a number. It’s a call to action that requires employers to comply with the Older Americans Act.
The Older Americans Act (OAA), passed in 1965, established the Administration on Aging (AoA). This legislation has worked toward providing seniors and caregivers with health and nutrition programs, community service programs, employment, and elder rights protection. It also trains personnel in the field of aging so that they can better serve seniors. Now that more and more seniors are choosing to remain employed into traditional retirement years, employers must comply with the OAA. It is their job to ensure the safety of their employees no matter what age.
Twenty five percent of American workers will be over age 55 by 2020, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. While according to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), older workers tend to experience fewer workplace injuries than their younger colleagues, when accidents do happen, older workers typically require more time to heal. Accidents involving older workers are more likely to be fatal.
Although there is no consensus on the age at which workers are considered “older workers,” the aging workforce phenomenon is real. These demographic shifts have made the issue of healthier workers, especially those of advanced age, much more pressing. Chronic disorders such as hypertension and arthritis can affect an employee’s health and safety. Slip, trip, and fall incidents also become more common among older workers. Making adaptions in the workplace to accommodate older workers is necessary to keep them safe.
Why should businesses adapt to accommodate older workers? Older workers have developed years of experience and can help guide new and younger hires. Older workers are also able to explain and train younger predecessors more efficiently than training videos or teaching methods that are not as hands on. Younger workers can work alongside the older employees and learn all the “tricks of the trade” from someone who has been doing the job for decades. Organizations would be making a mistake if they were to ignore older workers, not properly adapt their work sites, and not utilize the years of knowledge and intellectual capital they bring to the table.
Some things businesses can do to adapt for aging employees include:
- Allow for flexible hours. Allow workers to have an input on their work schedule. Allow them to choose the hours, work conditions, work organization, work location and work tasks whenever possible.
- Match tasks to abilities. Use self-paced work, self-directed rest breaks and less-repetitive tasks.
- Avoid prolonged sedentary work. Prolonged sedentary work is bad for workers at every age. Consider implementing workstations that allow workers to sit or stand to do computer and other desktop tasks.
- Manage noise, slip/trip and other physical hazards.
- Provide and design ergo-friendly work environments, including adapted tools, nonslip floor coverings, better illumination where needed, and computer screens that can be adjusted for less glare.
- Use teamwork strategies or the buddy system for tasks when workers are offsite, working alone, or working in an environment that is especially hazardous.
- Provide health promotion and lifestyle interventions including physical activity, healthy meal options, tobacco cessation assistance, risk-factor reduction and screenings, coaching, and onsite medical care. Creating health and safety programs encourages workers of all ages to take better care of themselves and thus, prevent many common illnesses that could lead to workplace accidents.
- Invest in training and building worker skills and competencies at all age levels.
- Proactively manage reasonable accommodations and the return-to-work process after illness or injury absences.
- Require aging workforce management skills training for supervisors. Include a focus on the most effective ways to manage a multigenerational workplace.
Employers should understand the normal physiological and biological changes that occur with aging but not prejudge an older worker’s abilities and willingness to work. With a few simple adaptations to the workplace, older workers should be able to continue performing their work tasks. The older workers themselves should initiate the use of the accommodations and take action to protect themselves from workplace incidents. In the end, a safe and healthy workplace is for the benefit of all workers at any age. When employers foster the continued employment of aging workers, they will find that their dedication to the job and their years of experience bring a wealth of knowledge and encouragement to the workplace. Younger workers can learn new skills and get much needed advice from employees who feel their age is just a number and not an indication that their years in the workplace have come to an end.
For more information about safety recognition programs that can help keep your employees safe, contact the Safety Pros!