Executive health: Grey is here to stay

A few decades ago, reaching your 60s was time to start putting serious thought into spending more time with friends and relatives, tending to the garden and working on your golf swing. Today, this notion has gone the way of the fax machine. There’s growing gap between the official pension age of 65 and the actual age at which people decide it’s time to down tools.
According to OECD figures, New Zealand’s effective retirement age in 2009 was just over 67 for men and 65 for women, an increase of 4.8 years for men and 4.4 years for women since 1999.
As New Zealand’s population ages, older people are forming larger proportion of the workforce. This will have significant implications for New Zealand employers.
Research by the Ministry of Social Development projects that by 2051, seven to10 percent of the labour force could be aged 65 and over, up from three to four percent in 2011.
In 2006 (the last official census), 17.1 percent of Kiwis aged 65 plus were involved in at least one hour of paid work per week – up from just 6.4 percent of that age group in 1986. Of that 2006 workforce aged 65 plus, 52 percent were working at least 30 hours week.
Businesses have huge amount to gain from the experience, organisational knowledge and interpersonal skills of older workers. However, this group will have different needs and motivations to their younger colleagues. Smart businesses will put strategies in place to get the very best out of their older demographic.
Accommodating the increased healthcare needs of older workers will be major consideration. As we age, we are naturally more prone to illness and injury. People aged over 65 account for about third of all public health spending in New Zealand.
The good news for employers is that number of this cohort are in good health. Once life-limiting conditions can now be overcome. We can have new hips, knees, heart valves and be back to our best quickly. Older people are also more active than ever before. Enter any cycling event in New Zealand and don’t be surprised if 70 plus year old whizzes past you with ease.
Despite this, even the healthiest of us will not be immune to the effects of ageing. From business perspective, strategies to support older workers to stay in good health will be vital to enhancing productivity and employee engagement.
Low investment, prevention-focused initiatives that can help to significantly reduce the potential for illness-related absence can include flu vaccinations, onsite GP clinics and annual health checks. Consider checks for blood pressure, cholesterol, BMI and glucose levels, for example. Other initiatives can include team-building exercise programmes such as walking challenges, yoga/pilates or even dance.
Older people are also much more likely to need elective surgery. Employer-subsidised health insurance is popular way to help employees get the surgeries they need without delay, and is likely to be very attractive retention tool for this age group.
When it comes to retention, older workers’ reasons for staying in the workforce will be diverse. However 2009 Ministry of Social Development survey into older people’s attitudes to work found that work-life balance was highly valued. Factors that would encourage them to stay in work included: variable hours of work, more unpaid leave and an option to work from home.
Westpac Australia introduced an ‘Age Balance’ initiative in 2002, which included the option for all mature-age employees to work flexibly and take “grandparental leave”.
The so-called “grey tsunami” is on its way. But with good planning, your business will already be on its way to higher ground. M

Peter Tynan is chief executive of Southern Cross Health Society.

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