Managing an Ageing Workforce…vital to a successful future! 

When it comes to Risk Management, the ageing workforce is a hot topic!  Performance Drivers uses our "Grey-Haired Gurus"™ on contract to give our clients an edge.  However, some organisations find that older workers in certain jobs are a threat to productivity, health and safety and can result in higher insurance costs.

I have recently spoken with a number of our clients that believe they have a disproportionate amount of workers aged over 50.  They are concerned that the physical demands of some tasks mean increased associated risks for their ageing workforce.  How do they manage this into the future? 

From my own perspective, and having been in the workforce for 30 years, I am very aware of the value of experience.  Companies that have an older workforce do flourish but they need to focus on the way work is done and improve or change work practices to suit individual’s limitations.

Labour shortages across industrial, manufacturing and resource sectors are continuing issues.  Workforce participation rates fall sharply after the age of 55.  Managing an ageing workforce is vital to a successful future.

There are certain changes that occur to both the body and mind of every individual as they age, particularly the body, which can make safety in the workplace a challenge.  It is a fact that injuries involving slipping or falling are much more common in older workers.  As we age, reduced balance, slower reaction time, visual deficits and (quite often) complacency result in mishaps and a negative impact on employee wellbeing and productivity.

So a question that needs to be asked is, “As an employer, are you aware of the challenges and what steps are you taking to keep ageing workers safe and productive?”

How do we manage this and what are the benefits?

Mature aged workers when managed correctly can be of huge benefit.  Older workers use experience and skills to offset a decline in physical performance.  Also, they are often more flexible with regard to working conditions than the younger worker, and are generally quite keen to undertake training and further their careers.  Retaining and sharing knowledge is a key risk management consideration.  Do you have a strategy for harnessing the skills and experience of the older worker?  How are you using their knowledge to the greater benefit of the company?

There are many ways to utilise this often undervalued resource.  Examples that come to mind are mentoring programs, workshops for best practice and flexible work arrangements, to name a few.  In industries already facing shortages, companies embracing the knowledge of the older worker are moving ahead of their competition.

Here are two short case studies of the value derived from embracing the knowledge of older workers :

  • Operators retrained to receive calls to take orders from tradesmen.  This actually resulted in larger orders being placed because their product knowledge and “practicality” meant they were able to relate to client’s needs far better than a traditional customer service employee.
  • A forklift operator moving into a planning role, his ideas resulted in an overall decrease in forklift “movement”.  This classic Lean “waste” was reduced by a new approach to managing the “put away” function in a busy warehouse.

There are dozens of examples unique to many organisations with the common strategy of utilising the best attributes of a person’s experience.  Age is inevitable.  With age comes wisdom, knowledge, embedded skills and a “solutions driven” approach to issues.  Combining retirement plans and flexibility with a “brain strategy” is the key. 

It’s hard to accept sometimes that we are not as quick or as strong as a younger person in their 20’s or 30’s but harness grey power knowledge and experience, and see the results!

Ageing means lifelong development, NOT automatic decline and some skills do improve with age.

Retirement is overrated!

Written by Richard Blow, Managing Director – Performance Drivers


For more information about managing an aging workforce please contact us on 61 2 9683 6200 or email admin@performancedrivers.com.au.