14 November 2017

Adapting to an ageing workforce

Employers and health insurance providers face an uphill task to respond to the challenges

The UK population is ageing and the ratio of workers to retirees is falling.  According to the Institute of Employment Studies there are currently 7.2m workers aged 50-64 and by 2020 one third of Britain’s workforce will be aged over 50* which will place unique pressures on both employers and health insurers.  Towergate Health & Protection believes we need to devise more innovative solutions to address the challenges of having an older workforce.

Society and the world of work are changing.  Changes to the state pension age, the demise of final salary pension schemes, the economic environment and demographic shifts have all contributed towards employees retiring at a later age**.

Commented Brett Hill, Distribution Director, “The realities of an older workforce and the repercussions of that workforce being in poor health are of mounting concern for employers.  The sooner we acknowledge the problems then the better the chances we have of finding some of the answers.”

To meet the needs of an older working population, The Health Insurance Group advocates more flexibility in working practices, greater emphasis on improved health support services and wellness initiatives and more suitable benefits packages targeted at the older demographic.

Flexible working, part-time working and later-life working options could allow knowledgeable and experienced staff the flexibility to continue with their employment, focussing on productivity rather than actual working hours.  Older workers may also have responsibilities as carers for relatives, elderly or young.  

“In these situations, employees might struggle to find a balance between work and their duty to care for someone.  Employers that can offer staff the time and freedom to comfortably do both will go a long way towards relieving some of the physical and emotional burden associated with providing care for a dependent,” added Hill. 

Additional support could also come in the form of external information resources such as providing access to independent financial advice to help employees manage their pensions or other financial assets, as well as access to employee assistance programmes (EAP) with specific content on caring responsibilities or other age-related concerns.

Employers and health

Employers should also consider providing greater access to health screenings and wellbeing programmes.  Health screenings can be a low-cost intervention, and assessments that are early, regular and frequent can provide the early diagnosis of long-term health problems such as cancer, cardiovascular disease, stroke and arthritis.

“Prevention is better than cure is an old, but mostly reliable, maxim for public health policy and the widespread implementation of regular screenings could have a significant impact on helping older employees monitor and improve their health before the onset of symptoms related to potentially serious conditions,” added Hill.  “Progressive employers should be offering employees the means to self-monitor and track their health across the most common health conditions, as well as providing preventative wellbeing or health initiatives.”

Mature wellness initiatives could take the form of company funded flu vaccinations in winter months, cholesterol, blood sugar and blood pressure testing, and access to health advisers for information on chronic disease management and prevention.  Incentivising more active lifestyles at work could include ‘softer’ options like paid-fitness breaks, lunchtime walking clubs, healthy eating workshops, healthier workplace snacks or the use of standing-desks to encourage physical activity.”

Businesses should review employee benefits to check their suitability for people at different stages in their lives.  Later-life benefits packages might encompass retirement initiatives to help with financial planning, lifelong learning, wellbeing and health and fitness.

Organisations that already offer policies such as group income protection or group risk products will need to consider extending cover for their employees beyond 65+.  Rather than waiting for schemes to reach expiry early negotiations with staff can more easily accommodate upper age ranges.  As private medical insurance (PMI) costs rise substantially with age, cash plans could provide more affordable options to help pay for preventative treatments.  Hill: “Insurers will need to introduce more inclusive products that balance affordability with availability and delivery.”

“The benefits to having an older working population are numerous, and employers stand to gain greatly from the experience and judgement such employees bring to the workplace.  It is time to reflect on the opportunity as well as build awareness around the issues to help the industry develop more innovative answers.  Future working practices and probably, job design will have to change as well as health and wellbeing measures but these should be viewed as an incredible opportunity for individuals, employers and the economy to prosper,” concluded Hill.

* http://www.employment-studies.co.uk/system/files/resources/files/mp130_0.pdf

** 2017 will see the ratio of non-workers to workers start to rise for the first time since the early 1980s http://www.resolutionfoundation.org/publications/live-long-and-prosper-demographic-trends-and-their-implications-for-living-standards/