Factor Returning Retired Workers Into Health Improvement Programs

Wednesday, February 8th, 2006
This post was written by Melanie Matthews

I’ve been reporting on the wealth of wellness initiatives health plans and employers are launching to identify health risks, suggest corrective regimens and reward wellness in their populations, all with an eye toward curtailing healthcare expenditures. More companies are rolling out online health improvement tools, rewarding the healthiest departments and promoting wellness on company time, all the while racking up some impressive ROI. Programs like Aetna’s Simple Steps to a Healthier Life®, Blue Shield of California’s Healthy Lifestyle Rewards Plan and A Call to Change from HealthPartners come to mind.

So far, the results are very positive. But in documenting these initiatives, I can’t help but wonder whether another emerging trend will impact their efforts. In the United States and abroad, companies faced with a shrinking pool of young talent are (re-)turning to retired employees to round out the work force.

Whether for pleasure or paycheck, older workers are happy to oblige. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the number of American workers ages 50 and over is projected to increase by 34 percent from 2003 to 2012, a net gain of 12.5 million workers. During the same time period, the number of workers aged 16 to 49 will increase by only 3 percent, a net increase of only 2.7 million workers. The American Association or Retired Persons (AARP) is on to this trend, having last year joined forces with a leading global online careers site to help connect mature job seekers with local jobs and provide tailored career resources.

Employers and health plans should consider this new demographic when crafting workplace wellness initiatives. These health promotion efforts should dovetail with a renewed look at workplace safety through the eyes of these aging employees. Companies would do well to take a page from Ford Europe’s book, which has introduced health counseling and taken older employees’ physical restrictions into account when modifying assembly line stations. Or from certain U.S. hospitals that have eased the physical strains of lifting patients by using hydraulic hospital beds or mobile “lift teams.” These and other nods to the aging workforce were chronicled in the
January 30, 2006 international edition of Newsweek.

These issues will be particularly important for French and German workers who until now have long enjoyed early and generously subsidized retirements. Feeling the financial pinch from their contributions, these governments are rethinking traditional retirement programs in ways that include keeping employees on the job longer. These countries were on hand at last month’s World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, where the aging workforce was high on the forum’s agenda.

With a comprehensive safety and health promotion plan in place, all employees can stay on the job longer and enjoy safer conditions. Harder to measure will be the impact of the elder workers’ presence on colleagues, workplace productivity and the corporate culture. Seventy percent of these returning retirees say they are working because they want to, not because they have to, so being happy at work just might be infectious. There’s a pandemic we can live with.

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