As the economy shifts and the baby boomer generation ages, the modern workforce has responded in kind. The working population is aging—by 2020, almost 25% of the labor force will be 55 or older, representing the largest share of the workforce among all age groups. This shift carries major implications for employers and how organizations handle treatment, prevention, and overall wellness of their staff. Fortunately, a Total Worker Health® approach can help identify and navigate risk areas for older employees, while advancements in healthcare technologies have provided opportunities for treatment and prevention that can save money and resources for employers.
There are several factors driving the increasing age of the modern workforce. First among these is the simple fact that people are living longer than they used to, and are more likely to continue working into their later years to support themselves. According to a 2014 report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Americans now can expect to live almost 20 years past the normal “retirement” age of 65, which represents an increase of 3 years since 1980. Likewise, changes in Social Security policy have kept many workers in the labor force longer, since benefits now increase if an individual chooses to retire after the age of 70. Though many of these employees are moving to short-term jobs outside their primary career field in their later years, the challenges of caring for an older workforce remain.
In this shifting workplace environment, it’s essential that organizations implement effective wellness programs for their workers. Total Worker Health® bridges the gaps between risk management, human resources, environmental health, and safety, creating a structured system of health, wellness and safety that accounts for the specific needs of employees. By focusing on body, behavior, and environment, Total Worker Health® combines wellness strategies with pain management, treating employee health proactively by reducing stress, addressing safety concerns, providing ergonomically certified equipment, and encouraging good nutritional health among employees. Total Worker Health® programs have led to major productivity increases and reduced costs for organizations of all types.
However, management strategies are just one piece of the puzzle when it comes to addressing the needs of an aging workforce, which carries a unique set of risks for workers and their employers. By nature of their age, members of the modern workforce are generally more likely to experience several different types of health issues that result directly from the workplace. For example, musculoskeletal disorders are more prevalent among older workers; employees aged 45 to 54 experienced MSDs at the highest rate of all demographics. Older workers are also more likely to face shoulder, knee, and back injuries than their younger colleagues. Even more striking are the fatality statistics for older demographics. The Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries showed that workers 55-64 accounted for 20.7% of fatal falls in the workplace in 2014, with workers above 65 also representing a 27% share of the same incidents. Combine these numbers with an increased propensity for lost work days and higher treatment costs for workplace injuries, and it’s easy to see why companies are rushing to adjust their wellness plans as their employees get older.
A Total Worker Health® approach provides several avenues for addressing these issues, including:
• Performing an ergonomic assessment and update the work environment accordingly
• Shift treatment plans to apply a whole-person approach
• Alternative pain management plans that prevent opioid abuse
• Adapt current positions or develop new ones that take full advantage of the skills and experience of an older workforce, while looking ahead to avoid chronic pain and injury for both them and their younger colleagues
• Adjust return-to-work policies to account for older employees
Fortunately, recent technological advances have made it easier for companies to create a positive, wellness-focused environment for their employees, whether through prevention or better management of claims and recovery processes. Smartphones have been instrumental in updating worker health strategies. With the smoother claim systems provided by smartphones, workers have become empowered to take charge of their wellness, while employers have identified opportunities for better communication of safety information and training materials through smartphone apps. Likewise, wearable technology has helped employers stay informed about the condition of their workers so that risk areas can be identified before injuries and lost days occur.
Just as significant has been the rise of telemedicine practices, which have provided a channel for workers to engage directly with the health care professionals responsible for their treatment. As video conference technology has improved, organizations have increasingly been able to automate the claims process and provide treatment for employees more quickly and with greater effect. The result is a healthier workforce that operates with greater productivity and reduced absenteeism from days missed due to recovery and treatment of workplace injuries. Although there is no real replacement for onsite treatment, education, and training, these telemedicine solutions complement existing resources and help reduce costs for incidents in the workplace.
Ultimately, an aging workforce represents challenges that require the combined effort of Total Worker Health® strategies and modern technology. Mature workers are a massive, eager population with vast ability and experience; with proper planning, communication, and leadership, employers can reap the rewards of engaging with these workers while reducing the cost and resource demands that come with a more risk-prone workforce, albeit a talented one.
We’d like to invite you to a panel at the CWC & Risk Conference on Chronic Pain with an Aging Workforce. We’ll be talking about how to keep your workers productive, happy, and claim-free as the workforce grows older, through a proven, industry-leading Total Worker Health™ approach. Join us as we break down ways to decrease missed workdays, reduce costs around worker health claims, and implement strong practices for a strong culture of wellness in your organization. Speakers on the panel will be:
• Kevin Lombardo, President & CEO of DORN Companies
• William Woyshner, Western Regional EHS Manager, Saint-Gobain Corporation
• Lynne Watt, Manager, Risk Management and Insurance, Saint-Gobain Corporation
• Kristie Elton, Systemwide Healthcare Risk and Safety Program Manager, University of California, Office of the President