Following the rise in remote working, research by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) has revealed working from home may benefit older workers by helping them to remain in the labour workforce for longer. Eleven per cent of older workers in the UK who worked from home in 2020 reported they were planning to retire at a later age.
Similarly, new research by Bupa UK has revealed 56% of those over 65 believe working from home gives them better flexibility for their lifestyle. Just over a tenth (11%) of over 65s reported greater levels of wellbeing since working from home.
Whilst the shift to remote working has benefitted the wellbeing of many older workers, remote working is not possible for all older employees. Though many over 65s have embraced the work from home lifestyle, others are missing the office environment, with 50% wanting to return to their usual place of work full-time now that restrictions have been lifted.
With this is mind, IOSH magazine spoke to Naomi Humber, head of mental wellbeing at Bupa UK, to ask her about the different ways OSH practitioners can support the wellbeing of older workers.
Offer support with new technologies
Many workers aged 65+ have spent a lifetime in an office-based role, and therefore may find it more difficult to adjust to new technologies and processes needed for remote working, when compared to younger generations with greater familiarity with technology.
Offering your team training in new technologies can help older workers feel supported whilst working remotely – boosting overall levels of wellbeing at work.
Access to health services
Poor health is one of the main reasons for early retirement. According to ONS data, 7.4% of men and 10.2% of women left the UK labour force early due to illness. Supporting your older employees with access to health and wellbeing initiatives, can help them prioritise their health, allowing them to remain in work for longer.
Over the past year, businesses have made progress in removing barriers to accessing healthcare, such as improving the ease of booking medical appointments with the increased availability of remote health services.
However, business shouldn’t stop there. With an ageing population, business leaders should follow a health-first approach to people management, ensuring employees have access to both mental and physical health services. This will lead to a happier and healthier workforce, with increased productivity and reduced turnover rates.
Career development opportunities
Career development is a key tool for employee engagement, and this is just as important for older workers as it is for those starting out in their careers.
Not being challenged enough can leave employees feeling fatigued – which can lead to a workplace wellbeing phenomenon known as ‘languishing’. However, by encouraging your team to further their skills you can help to build a resilient, engaged, and motivated workforce.
As a manager, you can lead by example and share further learning opportunities with your team. Learning doesn’t have to be strictly work-related; challenging yourself to learn a new language or mastering a new hobby can contribute to developing your wider skillset, which may lead to career development opportunities.
Offer support when planning for the future
Wellbeing initiatives that offer support for older workers should help with planning for the future. As they approach the latter stages of their careers, many may start to think about their financial situation, what the next few years at work will look like, what age to consider retirement and what life after work means for them.
You could consider offering practical workshops aimed at, for example, helping your team to achieve any career milestones they’d like to reach before retiring, or to explore what the future beyond full-time work will look like. These can all contribute towards helping older workers prepare for the future.
Consider the needs of older workers
It’s no surprise that older workers have reported that remote working offers a greater balance between their home and work life. Remote working can also be a good way for those workers closer to retirement age to transition to retirement slowly, and at the same time, businesses are able to keep the valuable skills, knowledge and experience of their older employees within their teams for longer.
However, it’s important to be aware some older workers may prefer to work in a formal office environment compared to entirely working from home. For others working in certain sectors (such as retail and construction), it may be not be possible to slowly transition to retirement whilst working remotely.
There is no one-size-fits-all approach when it comes to working policies. Be sure to discuss with your employees how you can agree upon working policies that support both the needs of your business and team.
Read our feature for IOSH's policy statement on why older workers are a valuable resource and a benefit to organisations here.