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May 2016

Story of the Ages: How do you handle aging employees?


elderly man focus on eye

Aging is a process that everyone experiences. Across all occupations, aging provides a unique challenge as it can inhibit an individual’s ability to carry out their work efficiently and with sufficient quality. However, it is important to remember how aging can also be an asset to a company. Experience, wisdom, and unique insight are all intangible characteristics that offer an invaluable facet to a workplace. So, how do employers deal with aging employees, and how do companies optimize their older employees’ skills and abilities?

What hazards accompany aging?

There are safety hazards that appear with elderly employees. As workers age there are two chronic conditions that are quite common; arthritis and hypertension. About 45% of workers over the age of 55 suffer from either hypertension or arthritis. Additionally, approximately 75% of employees across America have a health condition that requires consistent management and care. These high rates of chronic ailments and sickness will not only increase the number of days employees need off from work, but will inflate the days employees spend at work feeling ill. Workers who feel ill at work may be more prone to accidents on the job, as well as medical episodes at the workplace.

Jobs where fine motor skills are required may be present more hazardous situations for older workers. For example, driving accidents are the most prevalent hazard for older workers. Overall, driving accidents account for 32% of all deaths for workers over the age of 55. This high accident rate could be due to debilitating chronic illness, impaired vision, slow reflexes, and other ailments that can be associated with the aging process.

How can employers compensate for aging workers?

Productive aging is the term used to describe the process and technique of creating an age-friendly occupational environment. This is an approach that employers can use to effectively assimilate and optimize their older workers into their specific occupation. There are four individual points to the process of productive aging.

  1. Life Span Perspective- This point emphasizes the different changes in the biological, social, and cognitive facets of an individual. It focuses on how different environments effect these facets over time, and how an individual changes when on the job over a long period of time.
  2. Comprehensive and Integrated Framework- Creating a system that identifies the process of aging and how it effects the individual in the workplace is essential. This system can consist of education on health, chronic ailments, injury prevention, and other dynamic points.
  3. Outcomes that recognize the priorities of both workers and organizations- creating a workplace that optimizes the abilities of aging workers should realize the goals of both the workers (safety) and the employer (less spending on healthcare, improved worker efficiency).
  4. A supportive work culture for multiple generations- There are differences between every generation. Fostering a work environment that allows for members of each generation to work effectively together will go a long way in building workplace cohesiveness. Setting standards for communication, discipline, work habits, and training needs will help older and younger employees blend together.

Aging employees do create some new hazards, and accentuate already existing hazards. However, they certainly have unique skills to offer the workplace. Senior workers bring experience, wisdom, healthy work habits, and leadership to many occupations. Employers need to seek to foster a work environment that is friendly for older workers in order to optimize the intangible skills aging workers have. Although physical and mental complications can arise with age, senior workers have much to offer, and employers would be wise to adhere to the productive aging philosophy.

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