an old man holding and reading a piece of paper
an old man holding and reading a piece of paper

It is no secret that changing demographics means that many companies have more older workers than they did before. However, it can be more challenging, and a whole other conversation, to keep older workers healthy and working.

Older Workers

One of the reasons that older workers need a separate designation, is that as people age, there is more time to develop chronic physical and psychological health conditions. In Europe, this phenomenon resulted in an increase in workers retiring from the workforce early due to their health. They called it “invalidity pension.” Their solution? Projects were undertaken across Europe to preserve the health of older workers and keep them working longer.

Keeping Workers Healthy

These projects have resulted in significant improvements in work ability for older workers; and interestingly, also improved work ability for younger workers. There are many case studies published that serve as excellent examples of how to use a comprehensive wellness program approach to improve the health and engagement of your workforce. I’ve highlighted one of these examples that has a compelling message for company leaders!

“Fit for the Future”

When the public agencies in Austria noticed the elevated pension usage, they launched a campaign called: “Fit for the Future”.  This campaign focused on industries that had higher risk for workers retiring early for reduced work abilityWork ability is a measure of how fit you are to keep doing the work you are doing over time.  A number of things influence your score including your health, your workplace environment, your job demands, and your belief in your work ability.

The “Fit for the Future” project aimed to keep older workers at work through education, assessment of work ability, and provision of targeted interventions to improve work ability scores.  The results led the Austrian federal government to set up occupational health clinics across the country where all workers could learn about work ability, and gain skills and support to improve their work ability score. Companies used the information to target specific issues that were relevant to their workplace. This program was very successful and results have been published in many reports.  They include a healthier workforce, fewer older workers leaving the job, and improved work ability for young workers.

Here is the take away message for corporate leaders:

  • Work ability is influenced about 60% by the work design, leadership and the work environment
  • Work ability is influenced about 40% by the individual worker health factors
  • Addressing both of these areas is necessary for success

The success of the Austrian projects demonstrate that for workplace wellness programs to be effective, they must be comprehensive, address individual and organizational factors, and have strong leadership behind them.

Have you ever measured work ability in your company? What was your experience?

If you would like more information about other case studies from the European initiatives, or would like to discuss yo

Diana Vissers is the Founder and Director of Corporate Services at Work to Wellness Rehabilitation Inc. – a Canadian company providing expert disability management services to Canadian customers. She is in the business of making your place of business healthy, safe and productive. Follow her on Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter for the latest news and updates on health, wellness and integrated disability management.