Report reveals inadequate support for older workers with health conditions

By agency reporter
April 27, 2018

A report from the Centre for Ageing Better, Health warning for employers: supporting older workers with health conditions shows that employers are not properly supporting older workers experiencing long-term physical and mental health conditions.

Health is the most important factor affecting older workers’ decisions to stop working before reaching state pension age. Ageing Better’s research finds that early access to support, small adjustments to the workplace and working patterns and empathetic management are crucial to enabling people to manage their health at work and remain in employment.

A survey of over 1,000 people shows one quarter of people aged 55 and over with a health condition who are still in work are considering leaving because of their health. The research also found that workers are often put off speaking to employers until the last moment due to poor workplace culture and overly bureaucratic procedures.

According to Public Health England, 40 per cent of the working age population will have a long-term health condition by 2030. Older workers are more likely to have long-term health conditions such as musculoskeletal disorders, heart problems or chronic breathing difficulties. While 25 per cent of 25-49 year olds have a long-term health condition, this figure rises dramatically to 44 per cent of those aged 50-64. They are also more likely to have multiple conditions: 23 per cent of 50-64 year olds report that they are managing two or more long-term health conditions.

The early exit of older workers from the workplace has significant implications for employers struggling to recruit and retain skilled workers. Other research also suggests that halving the employment gap between people aged 50-65 and those in their 40s could boost GDP by one per cent (around £20 billion pa).

The report identifies significant opportunities to improve workplace-based prevention and management, especially of slow-onset, long-term conditions. Recommendations include:

Employers:

  • Normalise conversations around health at work and create a supportive, empathetic and open culture around managing health conditions.
  • Ensure full and equal access to support for health at work, including flexible working and workplace adjustments for all employees. These adjustments are often small and inexpensive, such as providing a fan or headset; employers should provide them proactively and consistently.
  • Make sure adjustments and support are sustained beyond initial requests for help.

Government:

  • Review regulation, training and guidance and other workplace incentives to encourage a culture shift in relation to workplace-based prevention and management of health conditions at work.
  • Consider the needs of people with long-term, slow onset conditions in delivering its actions from the 'Improving Lives: The Work, Health and Disability' White Paper, and in promotion of existing schemes such as Access to Work.
  • Develop improved workplace-based health services, including access to early and independent support, and extend occupational health and wellbeing support to smaller employers and self-employed people.

Report author Jemma Mouland, Senior Programme Manager – Innovation at the Centre for Ageing Better, commented, “Our research shows that significant numbers of people are missing out on the benefits of good work in later life because of health conditions. Falling out of work involuntarily leads to significant long-term problems, including loss of income and retirement savings, weakening social connections, and a diminished sense of purpose.

“Government and employers can do more to improve workplace-based prevention and management of health conditions. Many of these adjustments are small and inexpensive, but can provide a huge benefit to people who want to continue working in later life.”

* Read the report Health warning for employers: Supporting older workers with health conditions here

* Centre for Ageing Better https://www.ageing-better.org.uk/

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