Adapting company culture to the ageing workforce
Friday 17 June 2016
Professor Peter Buckle
In 2015 the government commissioned a report titled: ‘Future of ageing: evidence review’. As the average lifespan continues to increase and health in old age improves, it is important that we consider ways to extend our working lives. The report considers current barriers that ageing workers face within a variety of environments, and how company infrastructures may have to change to support and older workforce.
Our webinar explores the review and discusses ideas around extending and maximising the potential of ageing workers, and how companies can expect to adapt in the coming years.
Director of the Robens Institute, Peter Buckle holds visiting professorial positions at three leading UK universities. He is a Fellow and a past-president of the Chartered Institute of Ergonomics and Human Factors (CIEHF).
He led the Robens Centre for Ergonomics at the University of Surrey (1992 to 2006) and subsequently was appointed director of the Robens Centre for Public Health (2007-2009). His areas of expertise are in optimising the performance and quality of the work system whilst simultaneously minimising errors and health risks to the work force such as accidents, musculoskeletal disorders and stress.
Q: 1. How is this report being communicated to business?
A: The report has not been widely communicated to business. It was commissioned to inform Government policy on our ageing workforce and released in June 2015 but I am not aware of any of policy documents. The report can be found here.
Q: 2. Is it thought that ageing workers may need specific assessment such those that are undertaken for pregnant workers?
A: I believe that risk assessments should include both a better understanding of how ageing impacts on the human body and also an informed input from occupational health re. how health issues in later life might affect work performance. Suitable modifications to the work system should then follow where these are reasonably practical. Many ergonomics consultancies, including the Robens Institute can assist.
Q: 3. Are there any data charts, like anthropometric charts for age and strength I work in civil engineering, roadworkers etc.
A: Yes, there are many sources of data. However, they can be difficult to work with as the exact nature of the task needs to be established as a priority and the characteristics of the user groups defined carefully to avoid mismatches. Many organisations in the UK find it helpful to consult Chartered Ergonomists/Human Factors specialists.
Q: 4. The French reduce their workforces hours gradually before retirement. Have you looked into that.
A: Yes, My review was specifically about the UK workforce but the idea of reducing workforce hours before retirement is recognised as being a popular option for some workers. Others prefer to (or fir financial reasons have to) work full-time for as long as possible.
Q: 5. Given the law on age discrimination and generic office systems like MS, what do employers need to allow for the ability to learn new skills?
A: The CIPD has developed a resource to aid with management of the changing workforce demographic. Enhanced awareness by managers of the different needs of older workers re. training, especially in ITC, is probably all that is required to ensure the training is “fit-for-purpose”.
Q: 6 Is there a benefit in general on making lights brighter?
A: The The answer is that it depends very much on the nature of the task being undertaken. It is true that ageing can affect the ease with which light passes through the lens of the eye but more important is the extent to which some work tasks are visually demanding. For example, an inspection task or a requirement to read small font may both benefit from improved lighting. Interestingly, we often find that the performance of ALL workers (not just older members of the workforce) may be enhanced by redesign of the tasks.
Q: 7 You stated that workplace design needs to accommodate the older workforce. However, this is likely to involve a significant cost. Do you have any results of the costs of adapting the work environment for the ageing workforce?
A: The costs of adapting the work needs also to be seen in the context of the benefits that accrue. Older workers are particularly valuable because of their experience and knowledge. This is often knowledge that is difficult to capture and pass on to others. It is also difficult to put a monetary “value” on. There is an extensive evidence base on the monetary value of adapting work to fit the worker across the whole range of the work force. However, because in the UK at least, the challenge of accommodating the “over-65 worker” is a new one, we have yet to generate such data. Case studies for workplace interventions are available here.
Q: 8 Could ageing workers have a right to part time working in the future?
A: This fell outside of the scope of my review (to the extent that I was specifically asked not to speculate on such matters!). My own personal view is that as more and more organisations come to realise that, when their rapidly ageing workforce starts to leave, they are losing a highly valuable asset, they will adapt their own employment/working practices to retain staff. I also believe that if the government of the day wants to reduce pension costs it may have to find a way of ensuring employers do offer work opportunities to older workers, this in turn may lead to additional rights for those older workers deemed to be in the target demographic.