As many older US workers continue to postpone retirement or rejoin the workplace, some organizations now see four or even five generations of individuals working together.According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, workers aged 65 and older have grown by 117%, while Millennials have become the largest generation in the workforce. With employees now ranging from senior citizens to teenagers, today’s workforce is the most age-diverse in history.
Workers’ Physical Capabilities May Differ, Attitudes May Not
Challenges related to managing a multi-generational workforce are expected and highlight the disparities between older and younger employees. While some stereotypes persist, research shows there are more similarities than differences between the generations, especially when it comes to what they want in their work environment.
Risk of Injury Varies by Age Group
The youngest workers are more prone to accidents, partly based on their limited job experience, minimal safety training, and more hazardous work environments such as warehouses. On the other hand, more experienced older workers get fewer workplace injuries than their younger colleagues. Still, the injuries they suffer tend to be more severe (even fatal) and require extended recovery periods.
Older employees often have the most skills and experience, which puts them at a premium in many industries such as advanced manufacturing and construction. Retaining these workers – with their valuable expertise – can be beneficial, as they can transfer their knowledge to younger employees.
No matter their age, workers who are suffering pain from musculoskeletal disorders such as arthritis or previous accidents are more likely to injure themselves both on and off the job. One way to help workers alleviate their discomfort and avoid injuries is to provide them with onsite physical therapy delivered by a trusted adviser. Along with therapy, the physical or occupational therapist can offer workers tips on proper lifting, stretching and exercise programs, and job modifications that can help minimize worker pain and the risk of injury.
Creative Ideas for Safeguarding an Age-Diverse Workforce
Here are six examples of how to create a healthier and safer workplace that can accommodate the multi-generational workforce and reduce accidents:
Introduce more workplace flexibility. Let employees recommend changes in their work conditions and how they organize their tasks. Workers closest to the problem are often best equipped to fix it.
Match job tasks to workers’ abilities. Allowing older valuable employees to set the pace for their work schedule, avoid painful tasks, and take rest breaks as needed can keep them injury-free and available for knowledge transfer.
If possible, avoid prolonged, sedentary work, which is detrimental for people of every age. Consider sit/stand workstations or other options for workers who traditionally sit all day. Give these workers frequent breaks and opportunities for physical activity at work.
Introduce ergonomic improvements to the work environments that minimize discomfort and risk of injury, including better lighting, non-slip floors and surfaces, less noise, adjustable seating, and easy-to-use workstations and tools. Have onsite physical therapists conduct regular rounds to review the ergonomics in each department.
Provide onsite medical facilities in the workplace for employee medical care and physical therapy. If the worker is sick or injured, allow time away from work for doctor visits. Also, develop a fair process and schedule for those returning to work after an absence from illness or injury. Encourage employees to address musculoskeletal injuries immediately with on-site PT before they become debilitating.
Invest in training to help older employees adapt to new technologies and to build worker skills and safety protocols at all age levels.
Recognizing the importance of employee well-being for multi-generational workers, many companies are helping employees improve their health and avoid injury through various wellness programs. A well-designed, employee-centered approach to improving the work environment can benefit all workers regardless of their age.