PRODUCTIVE AGING AND WORK
Aging is a process experienced by all workers throughout their life. Although there is no consensus on the age at which workers are considered “older workers,” the aging workforce phenomenon is real. For many older adults, work is increasingly an important avenue to economic security, enhanced social interaction, and improved quality of life. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 2021 nearly one in four American workers was age 55 or older. Moreover, labor force participation rates for workers aged 55 and older are projected to increase through 2030, while participation rates for those in younger and middle-aged groups are projected to remain relatively level or decline. These demographic shifts have made the issue of supporting and protecting the health and safety of workers, especially those of advanced age, much more pressing. Vital to any workplace is the safety, health, and well-being of all workers, from their first day on the job to their last.
The National Center for Productive Aging and Work (NCPAW) advances lifelong well-being for workers of all ages and supports productive aging across the working life. The Center works on important issues such as how organizations are addressing the needs of an aging workforce and identifying interventions and strategies to support both workers of all age groups and organizations that employ them. The Center is hosted by the NIOSH Office for Total Worker Health®
NCPAW regularly co-hosts webinars with the Total Worker Health® Program on topics related to productive aging at work. Recordings of the webinars listed below are now available for viewing on the CDC YouTube channel.
- What’s Age Got to do with it? Realities and Solutions for Workplace Ageism. Free continuing education credits are available for this webinar until 11/23/2023 on the CDC TCEO page.
- Overlapping Vulnerabilities in the Aging Workforce
- Interventions and Promising Practices in the Aging Workplace
Find more webinars and learn more about Total Worker Health (TWH) on the TWH Webinar Series page.
Employers increasingly see the value that older workers bring to the job. Older workers have greater institutional knowledge and usually more applicable experience. They report lower levels of stress on the job, and in general, they get along better with their coworkers. Finally, they tend to be more cautious on the job and more likely to follow safety rules and regulations.
A well-designed, employee-centered approach that focuses on multiple aspects of the workplace, including the nature of work, benefits all workers regardless of age. Many workplace accommodations are easy to make and are inexpensive. Modern orthotics, appropriate flooring and seating, optimal lighting, and new information technology hardware and software can smooth the way to continued work for older individuals. A new emphasis on job sharing, flexible work schedules, and working from home can support added years in the job market for many.
These solutions can have large benefits if implemented properly with worker input and support throughout all levels of management. Moreover, these strategies can benefit workers regardless of age.
- Prioritize workplace flexibility. Workers prefer jobs that provide more flexibility over those that offer more vacation days. To the extent possible, give workers a say in their schedule, work conditions, work organization, work location, and work tasks.
- Match tasks to abilities. Use self-paced work, self-directed rest breaks, and less repetitive tasks.
- Avoid prolonged, sedentary work. Prolonged, sedentary work is bad for workers at every age. Consider sit/stand workstations and walking workstations for workers who traditionally sit all day. Design work to include a variety of tasks and skills. Provide onsite physical activity opportunities or connections to low-cost community options.
- Manage hazards. Including noise, slip/trip hazards, and physical hazards – conditions that may result in harm to workers of all ages, but can be more challenging to an aging workforce.
- Provide and design ergonomic-friendly work environments. Examples include adjustable workstations, minimize vibration and noise from tools, floor surfaces that reduce the impact on joints, adjustable seating, good lighting, and screens and surfaces with less glare.
- Utilize teams and teamwork strategies for identifying and solving problems. Workers closest to the problem are often best equipped to find the fix.
- Provide health promotion and lifestyle interventions including encouraging physical activity and healthy meal options, tobacco cessation assistance, screenings for health risk factors, strategies for reducing health risks, health coaching, and onsite medical care. Accommodate medical self-care in the workplace and time away for health visits.
- Invest in training and building worker skills and competencies at all age levels. Help older employees learn and adapt to new technologies, often a concern for employers and older workers. Provide workers the opportunities to practice and apply new skills as they are learning.
- Proactively manage reasonable accommodations and the return-to-work process after illness or injury absences.
- Provide age inclusive workforce management skills training for supervisors. Include a focus on the varying needs of workers at different life stages, and effective ways to manage a multi-generational workplace.
BLS Labor Force Statistics from the Current Population Survey, 2021 Annual Averages. https://www.bls.gov/cps/cps_aa2021.htm
Kevin S. Dubina, Lindsey Ice, Janie-Lynn Kim, and Michael J. Rieley, “Projections overview and highlights, 2020–30,” Monthly Labor Review, U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, October 2021, https://doi.org/10.21916/mlr.2021.20
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