Many of the companies with which I met mention their aging workforce. These companies often have low turnover, with many employees with 10 or more years of service. The American workforce will be impacted over the next two decades by the cohort of individuals known as the ‘baby boomers’. Born between 1946 and 1964, baby boomers are now entering their 60’s. During the next 18 years, they will be joined by the remainder of their generation. By 2010, 39% of the US population will be over the age of 45.

With the recent economic crisis, many older workers may be staying in the workforce longer as they rebuild their retirement savings. As these workers continue in the workforce, the health and productivity picture of these employees warrants consideration.

There are many reasons to want to protect and encourage this group of workers. Your company may have invested heavily in their training and education. Long-term employees may be viewed as corporate assets based on their ‘institutional knowledge’. UNUM Provident reports that workers over the age of 40 have lower incidences of worker injuries, short-term disability and unscheduled absences than employees under the age of 40. However, older workers typically have more severe consequences and therefore slower recovery rates when ill or injured. [i]

Logic would suggest that health care costs rise as a person ages. Research shows that medical costs rise an estimated 25% from age 40 to 50 and 35% from 50 to 60. But more important than age, is the presence of risk factors such as smoking, weight, and the amount of physical activity an individual gets. This chart shows the annual medical costs associated with risk factors.

An approach to dealing with the prevalence of risk factors is to encourage workers, regardless of age, to minimize the impact of health risk factors. Understanding and controlling health risks is the first place to start.

Understanding risk factors is accomplished by administering a health risk assessment or employee needs or interest survey. AdvancingWellness clients have expressed both surprise and concern when assessments of this nature report the numbers of risk factors prevalent in their employee population. As an example, in one company 60% of their workforce is overweight or obese.

Controlling risk factors is addressed by implementing worksite wellness programs that provide education and awareness programs, encourage behavior change and create supportive environments in the workplace.

We are all aging, that part we can’t change. What we can change is how healthy we are as we age.

[i] “Health and productivity in the aging American workforce: realities and opportunities, UNUM Provident, Spring 2005.