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Tuesday, May 21, 2024
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Healthy Work Environment Urged for Aging Work Force

Healthy Work Environment Urged for Aging Work Force

BY MARION WEBB

Senior Staff Writer

As the face of the national work force is destined to become older and grayer, employers may want to consider new ways for promoting a healthy and productive work environment, according to a health science professor.

According to the Office of Employment Projections Bureau of Labor Statistics, between 1998 and 2008 the number of workers ages 55 and older will rise nearly 50 percent while those ages 16 to 25 will decrease by 3 percent.

The American Association of Retired Persons expects the median age of 58 million workers to be 45 by 2006.

“In the United States, companies have no choice but to hire older people,” said California State University Fullerton professor Shari McMahan at the American Alliance for Health, Physical Education, Recreation and Dance conference held at the San Diego Convention Center on April 10.

McMahan’s presentation on “Promoting Health in an Aging Workforce” struck a chord with her chiefly middle-aged audience.

Under the Age Discrimination & Employment Act, people aged 45 years are considered part of the “older work force” and protected from age discrimination.

Although ageism persists, employers will have no choice but to hire baby boomer-types given that the number of job vacancies will be greater than available younger people to fill them, she said.

Eager to Work

The good news is 3.7 million people ages 65 and older who aren’t currently working are eager to meet that need, according to the Harris Poll by consultant Harris Interactive in Rochester, N.Y.

Older adults have special health concerns that employers need to be aware of and should deal with, said McMahan.

They are more vulnerable to chronic disease, including arthritis, heart problems, impaired hearing and vision, and repetitive stress injuries that go back to decades in the work force.

Older workers tend to be more intimidated by new technology and the associated longer working hours, stress and time pressure.

For employers, this means additional investments in training employees to use computer programs. But they also need to develop programs and policies to make the workplace safer for the elderly.

“The good news is that managers describe older workers as having a strong sense of loyalty, commitment and pride in their craftsmanship,” McMahan said.

Big name companies such as Travelers Insurance, Days Inn, B & Q;, McDonald’s, General Electric, General Motors and AT & T; have jumped on the gray-haired hiring train.

B & Q;, a home improvement retail chain in England, found that those stores run by older workers had six times less employee turnover, 40 percent less absenteeism, and were 18 times more profitable than those run by younger workers, McMahan said.

Traveler Insurance, an insurance provider based in Hartford, Conn., saved $1 million by pooling older workers from its own job bank vs. hiring temporary workers from outside agencies, she added.

Similarly, in the coming years there are likely to be more gray-haired people serving up hamburgers at McDonald’s and grandmothers making reservations at the Days Inn. A healthy lifestyle could keep them there for many years.

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