As we develop strategies for the future of work and the workplace, we must ensure the continuity of the powerful post-pandemic legacy by expecting employers to not only ensure a healthy, and safe work environment but also to actively support employees’ health and the health of our ageing societies.
As the world formally ends the Covid-19 emergency, the long-term impact on how we think about and expect the role of public health in our daily lives has profoundly changed. In the workplace, the pandemic has led employees to demand greater attention to public health from their employers. As we develop strategies for the future of work and the workplace, we must ensure the continuity of such a powerful legacy by expecting employers to not only ensure a healthy, and safe work environment but also to actively support employees’ health and the health of our ageing societies. Movements like the UN Decade of Healthy Ageing can guide employers moving forward, from advising on adult vaccine initiatives to caregiving benefits. The Global Coalition on Aging, therefore, calls for employers to embrace their role as a steward of public health by adding the role of Chief Public Health Officer to those already in the C Suite from Finance and Marketing to Diversity, Equity and Inclusion and Technology.
After all, we’re headed for a time when well over 20 per cent of the population in advanced economies will be older than the traditional “working age.” This is already the reality in super-ageing countries like Japan, which will soon have close to 40% of their population over 60, with many other OECD countries also coming close to hitting that milestone. This only increases the urgency for organisations to differentiate their employee value proposition, tap the pool of older talent, and engage a workforce that now includes five generations.
As the OECD highlights in its recent report and event, Retaining Talent at All Ages, building this multi-generational workforce is now a business imperative for every employer. Faced with widespread labour shortages, organisations are offering hybrid and remote work, greater flexibility, and novel perks – essentially anything to attract workers. However, lasting results will require thinking bigger to elevate employers’ impact in such areas as public health and healthy ageing, responding to one of the mega-trends of our 21st century – longevity to an age of 100+ and more old than young in all societies as they modernise.
A strategy that prioritises the health of all employees – especially those older workers who are too often counted out – can achieve more than any number of redesigned offices, pop-up events, or other one-off benefits to try to win over talent.
Instead, employers should embrace their role as a steward of public health – a meaningful leadership that will resonate with employees. Initiatives like adult vaccination campaigns, support for employee caregivers, screening, and early detection programmes in areas from cardiovascular disease (CVD) and bone health to cancer should be part of any employer’s healthy ageing strategy, while also helping experienced older workers to stay engaged, productive, and contributing for longer.
Organisations can consider several strategies to attract and retain employees in the multi-generational workforce:
- Launch an employer strategy on adult vaccines. Just as childhood immunisation was a triumph of 20th-century public health, adult vaccination as part of life-course immunisation offers immense potential for the 21st Employers can demonstrate their public health leadership by helping older workers protect their health, and by harnessing the value of the many vaccines that are now available but under-utilised, including for shingles, pneumococcal pneumonia, Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV), and influenza. This will become even more important as innovations like MRNA lead to vaccines for cancers and possibly even Alzheimer’s.
- Emphasise health prevention and healthy ageing. Life-course immunisation fits at the centre of the larger healthy ageing movement. As a trusted source of information and benefits, employers can use existing channels to promote preventive health and guidance for healthy ageing. This is the logical next step for workplace health initiatives, which have evolved from safety regulations to anti-smoking campaigns and blood drives to today’s growing focus on financial health, healthy ageing, and caregiving support. Nor is it inconsequential that employers’ self-interest in keeping their employees healthy will save money, add to productivity, and build resources of valuable trust that could include currently overlooked areas such as a bone health assessment using a short questionnaire, a bone density scan, laboratory tests and support for their communities’ Fracture Liaison Services to prevent second fractures from those already at risk, including post-menopausal working women.
- Help older employees extend their careers. According to the OECD, fully 25% of workers aged 50-64 leave their job because of poor health. Healthy ageing initiatives are key to retaining older talent, alongside flexible scheduling, coaching and mentoring roles, lifelong learning, and more. These efforts tap into the immense expertise and knowledge of older employees, especially when they teach and team up with younger workers. A part of the ongoing education and skill development is the linkage between ageing, workplace engagement and digital technology. The Healthy Aging Innovation Prize as part of the UN ITU-WSIS programme on Information Communication Technology (ICTs) and Older Persons shows the way to innovation, skill development and education for older adults to play a productive and valued part in our 21st-century workforce.
- Support employees with caregiving responsibilities. As societies grow older, tens of millions of people are balancing work and caregiving responsibilities. Just as employers support parents, they should support employees who care for older family members. This includes equitable leave policies, financial wellness tools, internal support networks, and other resources, which pay off in recruitment, retention, and productivity.
In the wake of the pandemic and the “Great Resignation,” people are asking fundamental questions about what they expect from their employers. Action on healthy ageing offers a powerful avenue to meeting those expectations – positioning employers to lead in our ageing societies will bring economic as well as health benefits to all of us.
Source: OECD Forum