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June 21, 2011

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Employers must focus on health of ageing workforce

Too many employers are neglecting the needs of their older staff and failing to help those experiencing mental, or physical decline carry on their tasks effectively.

This is the message borne out of new research by the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD), which sheds light on how well prepared employers are before the final phasing-out of the Default Retirement Age (DRA).

From October, employers will no longer be able to require employees to retire at a certain age, except in certain limited circumstances, which will mean employers will need to ensure their performance-management systems and practices concentrate as much on older workers as the rest of their workforce.

In its ‘Focus on an Ageing Workforce’ survey of 2000 employees, the CIPD reveals that older workers are most likely to have noticed a decline in their physical ability to do their jobs – with 28 per cent saying their physical ability has declined a lot; and 51 per cent saying their physical ability has declined a little. However, while workers aged up to 34 are significantly less likely to report a decline in their physical ability to do their job, there is not a huge difference between older workers and the 34 to 45-year-old age group – 17 per cent of whom say their physical ability has declined a lot; and 51 per cent reporting it had reduced a little.

For those workers who felt their physical ability to do their job has declined as they got older, more than three-quarters said their employer had not made any adjustments. Where employers had made adjustments, access to occupational-health services (7 per cent), offering a reduction in hours (7 per cent), and flexible working (6 per cent) were the most common modifications reported by employees.

Interestingly, older workers report better mental and physical health than their younger colleagues. In all, 91 per cent of workers aged 65-and-above say their mental health is good, or very good, compared with a survey average of 74 per cent. A high proportion of older workers also believe they are in good physical condition – with 69 per cent of older workers reporting their physical health to be good, or very good, compared with 64 per cent for workers across all age groups.

Commenting on the findings, Diannah Worman, diversity advisor at the CIPD, said: “The survey shoots down the myth that workers’ ability to do their job suddenly declines after they hit 65. However, the survey does show that employers need to do more to provide reasonable adjustments for workers of all ages to enable them to carry on working in light of physical, or mental-health difficulties – or, indeed, caring responsibilities, either for children, or for an ageing spouse, or partner.”

“The Coalition Government’s plans to extend the right to request flexible working for all employees will encourage more employers to provide flexible, modern workplaces in response to the needs of employees of all ages, and, just as importantly, in response to the demands created by changing demographics in the labour market.”

The survey also revealed that many employers are failing to consider older workers’ training and performance needs, with Worman warning that companies that do not treat older staff fairly in this regard could find themselves facing a discrimination claim following the phasing-out of the DRA if there is a dispute over the employee’s capability to do their job.

The survey found that less than half of workers (46 per cent) aged 65 and above said they have had a formal performance appraisal either once a year, or more frequently, compared with 65 per cent of all employees. Older workers are also much less likely than younger workers to have received training, with 51 per cent of those aged over 65 saying they had received no training in the last three years, or never, compared with 32 per cent across all age groups.

Said Worman: “The survey finds too many older workers are currently neglected in the workplace when it comes to training and performance management, with some employers perhaps assuming older staff are nearing the end of their working lives and need less attention. . . 

“Failure to address poor performance of older workers may also pave the way for discrimination claims following the phasing-out of the DRA if there is a dispute over capability. Employers should treat all employees fairly at work to ensure they get the best out of all staff, whatever their age.”

What makes us susceptible to burnout?

In this episode  of the Safety & Health Podcast, ‘Burnout, stress and being human’, Heather Beach is joined by Stacy Thomson to discuss burnout, perfectionism and how to deal with burnout as an individual, as management and as an organisation.

We provide an insight on how to tackle burnout and why mental health is such a taboo subject, particularly in the workplace.


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12 years ago

Given the past history of employers taking reasonable measures to assist the disabled, and lower ability from advancing age is surely a disability, I suspect many will find employment terminated as being ‘unable to fulfil their contract of employment’. I suspect older workers will have lower accident rates simply because they have ‘learnt the hard way’ how to use common sense safety measures. Has anyone done research?

12 years ago

Perhaps the anomolous statistics are due to older workers – not wanting to retire & perhaps needing to carry on working – “talking up” their well-being while the average worker, brought up in the era of HASAWA, would rather be at home – perhaps with HSE type stress.
More worryingly, it appears that employers will be unable to retire those who are no longer competent but will instead be expected to progressively adapt workplaces for the ‘weakest links’. So much for UK’s competitiveness then.