Demographic Change

Meeting the Needs of an Ageing Workforce

The working population in many European countries is becoming increasingly older with serious consequences for the efficiency of companies.

In order to be able to meet the challenges of a changing labour market, it must be assumed that there will be a rise in the retirement age rather than a drop over the next 20 years. Therefore, it should become the aim of every forward-looking company to keep its employees healthy while they are still young so that they remain capable of working until they have reached a high age.

As a result of illness-related early retirement or - what is even more serious - through the premature death of an employee, companies are losing those employees who are at their peak in terms of experience and efficiency. Their knowledge and skills are often difficult to replace and their loss to the workforce can turn out to be very costly.

The increasing pressure on the labour market created by ageing workforces should encourage companies to promote the health of their employees and thus reduce early retirement due to ill health.

In particular, measures to enhance the working environment and corporate culture are suitable for this purpose. Moreover, employees should be supported in dealing with their health and lifestyle as their own personal responsibility.

How serious is the problem of an ageing workforce and what can companies do to meet the resultant challenges they face? The European network Enterprise for Health (EfH) discusses these and other questions.

Practical Consequences

The  EfH members consider it of vital importance to acknowledge the impact of ageing in the workforce. The exchange of experience in the EfH network produced the following consequences for future activities:

  • Create an awareness among all company and supra-company shareholders of the need to examine the effects of the demographic changes in the world of work:

    For this purpose it is necessary to counteract the growing age discrimination with more reliable information on the development of the actual capabilities of older employees. Examples of good practice show how the work ability of the employees can be successfully maintained in the long term.

  • Systematically maintain and improve work ability by means of age-conducive work organisation and company health policy:

    Companies should promote a holistic approach which, on the one hand, improves the company conditions (work organisation and management) and the personal conditions of the employees (health, efficiency and competencies), e.g. through flexibilisation and the promotion of exercise to suit the various life phases. In general, the strategies should involve prevention and include all age groups in the company.

  • Promote flexible and sensible transitions into early retirement:

    The retirement policy represents an effective tool for dealing with an ageing workforce. A flexible approach which incorporates early retirement, flexible and phased retirement as well as part-time retirement can reduce the possible negative effects of an ageing workforce on business practice in conjunction with a flexible pension scheme. This will also meet the needs of most employees who no longer desire an abrupt break between working life and retirement but prefer a flexible transition which they can adapt to suit themselves personally.

"Work ability should be promoted over a personís entire working life and measures relating to competence, health and ergonomics must be integrated into company life. Only the proactive and sensitive handling of age-related problems can put workers in a position to  exploit their full potential during their working lives. This means understanding the strengths and weaknesses of younger and older workers to the same extent and designing work requirements and tasks in such a way that they can met the different demands."

Prof. Dr. Juhani Illmarinen, Finnish Institute for Occupational Health, FIOH, Helsinki, Finland

(Keynote Speaker, EfH Business Meeting "Ageing Workforce", September 23 - 24, 2002, Aix-en-Provence, France)

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