The large number of 'baby boomers' born after World War Two are now aging. The 'baby boom' population has an impact on both the age distribution in the workforce and the size of the retired population.
Statistics Canada (2011) states that "Nearly one person in four in the labour force projected to be 55 or more: The aging of the baby boomers, which is largely behind the projected decline in the overall participation rate, has had a major impact on the aging of the labour force. Between 2001 and 2009, the proportion of people in the labour force aged 55 and over rose from 10% to 17%, an increase of 7 percentage points in nine years. The first baby boomers reached the age of 55 in 2001. This increase is projected to continue from 2010 to 2021, when the succeeding cohorts of baby boomers in turn reach 55. By 2021, according to three of the five scenarios, nearly one person in four in the labour force (roughly 24%) could be 55 years of age or over, the highest proportion on record."
From: Projected trends to 2031 for the Canadian labour force. Statistics Canada, 2011
In addition to individuals leaving the workforce, the number of older people who work part-time or have other flexible work arrangements is also increasing.
Many studies are looking at the effects older workers have on the workforce. They are also looking at the effects different types of work have on older workers' bodies, and how to keep them safe and free of injury.
There is no exact, commonly recognized age at which someone is considered an older worker. Some studies have focused on people older than 55, while other studies examined those 45 years or older.
Yes and no. A well-designed work place benefits everyone. Workstations and job tasks that are matched to the needs of the individual employee are always best. Different conditions for different workers may be needed to meet the needs of any employee, not just one that is older.
However, that being said, there are some things older workers may need to work safely and comfortably.
A few. Most studies say that older workers tend to have fewer accidents, but when an older worker does get injured, their injuries are often more severe. They also may take longer to get better. Plus, the types of injuries can be different. Younger workers tend to get more eye or hand injuries, while older workers who have been working for many years report more back injuries.
Many workplace injuries are the result of doing the same things again and again. Repetitive motion injuries, for example, develop over time. An older worker, then, may report more musculoskeletal injuries since they've had longer for the condition to develop.
When anyone, no matter how old they are, is pushed to work harder than they safely can, there is a risk for injury. Because older workers tend to have more severe injuries when they do happen, it's important to make adjustments to work stations or work patterns to make them as safe as possible. It's also important to make sure a person is suited for a particular task and is safely able to do it.
In general, studies report that older workers exhibit lower turnover, more dedication to the workplace, and have more positive work values. Absenteeism is less frequent, although it is longer when it is due to injury or chronic illness.
Studies have not shown there is any consistent relationship between aging and performance at work. The main reasons for poor work performance are:
It is important to remember that these situations which may lead to poor work performance can happen at any age.
Some studies noted that older workers work slower and can't easily make quick decisions. However, this change is balanced because older workers often tend to be more accurate in their work and make more correct decisions than faster, younger co-workers.
Our bodies change as we age. People reach full physical maturity or development at around the age of 25 years. Then after a period of relative stability, our bodies begin to show signs of aging. Most of these changes are first noticed at ages 40 or 50, but changes can occur (or start) as early as 20 or 25. These changes include:
Changes in mental capacity also occur as a person ages. Older people may not think as quickly and clearly as they once did. Also, it may take longer to learn new skills. Much of the research on cognitive functioning (how people think and how quickly they do it) has been done in laboratory settings. As a result, there is information available on how individuals score on specific tests or tasks. However, there has been little testing to see how these results apply in the "real world". In particular, at work people naturally develop different habits to match or suit their learning and working styles.
Generally speaking, fluid intelligence (such as inductive reasoning, selective attention, 'dual-task' activities, and information processing) declines with age, while verbal tasks and vocabulary (talking and expressing themselves) remain constant or improve. Tasks that depend on short-term memory usually take longer. Older workers tend to use experience and expertise when working and may find it hard to work with complex or confusing stimuli. This means they might find it hard to do tasks in which they have to do (or think) a lot of different things quickly or at one time. They may also find it tricky to work in a busy environment where lots is going on. They may be less able to focus attention only on information relevant to the task at hand, especially in "new" situations. This means that there may be so much going on in new situations that they aren't sure what to prioritize, what to pay attention to, and what to ignore.
Training requirements may be different for older workers. Since learning is based on previous experience, training may need to be more "practically" based. New skills need to be explained in a way that fits into what they already know. Justification and the logic behind the information -- why you're doing what you're doing -- are more important. Training may take longer than with younger workers. There may also be a need for more assistance or practice. However, several studies show that there may not be a difference in how well someone works once the learning curve has been reached.
Everyone, at every age, thinks and learns differently. These cognitive functions -- how someone learns and thinks -- are very dependent on the individual, and the experiences they have had during their lifetime. People who have had a lot of training or education over their lifetime, or who have had to carry out a variety of tasks, are experienced learners. They are typically able to learn new skills well and improve the ones they have with ease. People who may be more resistant to learning as an older adult include those who have little formal training or who have carried out relatively simple or repetitive tasks for many years. They are used to doing the same thing, the same way, and may find it hard to take in new information or ways of doing things.
Long-term health issues increase with age. At the same time, mental and physical fitness are closely linked. Workplaces can help by providing a safe work environment that reduces the chance of injury or occupational illness. These steps include, for example, having equipment in good working condition, training, safe work procedures, low chemical and hazard exposure, supportive management styles, risk assessments that take into account aging factors, etc. Workplaces can also help by having workplace health promotion initiatives (active living, healthy eating, stress awareness, violence prevention programs, etc.).
(Information for this document adapted from: Elderly Workers. A. Laville, et al. Encyclopaedia of Occupational Health and Safety 4th edition, 1998, International Labour Office, "Safe and Healthy: A guide to managing an aging workforce", 2006, Government of Alberta Human Resources and Employment, and "Promoting active ageing in the workplace", J. Ilmarinen. European Agency for Safety and Health and Work, 2012. )
Document last updated on July 4, 2012