If you haven’t considered the “graying” of the current workforce, perhaps you haven’t reviewed current Department of Labor statistics:
- The median age of all U.S. employees is 40.4 years.
- The median age of employees in public administration is 43.8 years.
- The median age is 43.5 years in education and 43.0 years at transportation and utility companies.
Compare this data with a statistic provided by UnumProvident, a Tennessee-based group health insurance underwriter. They found that an increase of just one year in the median age of employees could increase claim costs anywhere from 4% to 8%. This is just a sampling of the findings that resulted from their recent study entitled “The Health and Productivity in the Aging American Work Force: Realities and Opportunities.” The population for the study came from UnumProvident’s disability database. Their research included 26.8 million covered individuals and approximately 178,000 employer policyholders.
Although the study revealed that workers age 40 and older display a lower incidence of work injuries, short-term disability, and unscheduled absences than their younger colleagues do, the average amount of time older workers miss because of an injury or illness is almost a third more. The study went on to note that the middle-aged workers account for 50% of all short-term disability claims, and almost 75% of long-term disability claims.
The main reasons for long-term absences for this employee demographic include problems with the musculoskeletal and circulatory systems in addition to mental diseases and cancer. Risk factors such as smoking, lack of exercise, and obesity can lead to healthcare costs for the middle-aged workers that are nearly 300% higher than for younger employees.
The challenge for employers with a significant middle-aged population is to find a methodology to keep their experienced workers, but not subject themselves to the high cost of disability claims in doing so. The answer to the problem lies in establishing wellness programs that meet the health needs of your aging workforce.
The University of Washington Health Promotion Research Center offers the following suggestions for creating an aging workforce wellness program:
Adopt and Implement Policies and Programs Proven to Work.
- Provide smoking cessation counseling and medications.
- Provide breast, cervical, and colorectal cancer screening, and blood pressure and cholesterol risk detection and management.
- Institute physical activity and healthy eating promotion, with emphasis on weight control.
- Facilitate smoking bans and stair-use reminders.
Align Employee Incentives toward Receiving Services and Participating in Programs.
Reduce or eliminate cost-sharing — Reducing out-of-pocket costs has been proven to increase use of breast cancer screening and tobacco cessation treatment. Reducing or eliminating these costs for other known high-value services, such as screens for blood pressure, cervical cancer, cholesterol, and colorectal cancer could increase their use as well.
Provide Easy Access and Use — Reducing structural barriers such as location, hours of operation, and availability of childcare has been shown to increase participation in breast and colorectal cancer screening. Creating or improving access to places for physical activity, including walking, also increases the potential for employees to participate.
Communicate “Why” and “How” Information and Track Results
Offer compelling insight, rationales, and guidance for using health promotion services and activities — Motivating employee participation requires communicating about why and how to use the policies and programs being offered. Specifically, Health insurance benefits that include no-cost screening and smoking cessation are more likely to be used if they are promoted using standard marketing and communication principles.
Assess employee needs — Surveys, such as Health Risk Assessments (HRA), can generate information on employee health status and health risks that helps employers make smart, targeted health promotion investments. Survey data, which should be anonymous to the employer, will also establish benchmarks against which employers can assess the effectiveness of their investments over time.