What do we think of when we think older workers? Burnt out, stuck in their ways, incapable, frail or worse? Or do we think our older colleagues are valuable, highly skilled and experienced members of the team? Do we expect older workers once they reach a certain age to simply retire? Or do we want to keep these pearls of wisdom and gems of experience around as valued members of our schools?
As the retirement age in many countries is rising, so is the working age. It is said by 2030 workers aged 55-64 will make up 30% or more of the total workforce in many countries. Workers in this age group face specific challenges and longer working lives means increased exposure to certain risks.
- A higher proportion of older workers means more people having chronic health problems with specific needs in the workplace.
- Older workers might be more vulnerable to certain hazards.
- Disability prevention, rehabilitation and return to work are of increased importance.
- At the society level, age discrimination needs to be dealt with.
(EUOSHA – Healthy Workplaces for All Ages campaign guide 2016)
First of all, we must remember that good work is good for you. There is strong evidence to suggest that for healthy people of working age, work is important and even therapeutic for good physical and mental health.
Secondly retaining skilled workers is not only useful, but good for morale and for your business in general.
Therefore, our schools ought to be healthy happy places for all staff whatever their age. The European Agency for Safety and Health at Work recognise this, and have developed a campaign launching this April to assist managers to better manage staff of different ages in the work place. Two important things to take away from this campaign are, “what is our perception of older workers?” and “what do we have in place to support all members of staff at age specific levels?”
Every individual is different and the skills and experience they bring to our teams vary as such. But we must admit that all of us appreciate support at one time or another, so here are some top tips that can easily be implemented to provide support which your staff can access if need be.
Top tips to supporting and retaining older workers
- Offering lifelong learning for all staff members regardless of age. This helps workers feel valued, and that their learning needs are not obsolete just because of their birthdate.
- Offer where possible flexible working and breaks, understanding that stamina changes with age. This is easier to implement than you might think, other staff members may even wish to help out providing cover for a few minutes here and there as needed.
- Offer practical ergonomic support, comfortable ADULT SIZED chairs and desk aids. Adults should never be expected to sit on child sized chairs to teach. Older adults have different musculoskeletal needs and providing some inexpensive physical support can really help with comfort and prevent injury.
- Develop a good knowledge base and awareness of health issues affecting older workers such as menopause. Try visiting nhs.uk for information on many common health problems. This includes you too chaps, whatever your gender if you are managing females around the age of 50 you should be familiar with the impact both cognitively and physically of the menopause.
- Offer mentorship opportunities to disseminate valuable knowledge from your older workers and encourage value amongst younger workers of their older colleagues. This is a great learning opportunity for both employees and the time spent together can be a valuable experience in peer support and team building.
- Ensure all staff members whatever their age, feel they can speak openly and confidentially with a line manager regarding personal and social issues which may affect their work. This is a no brainer, if your staff don’t feel they can speak out, minor problems fester and become bigger more time consuming issues to deal with.
- In some cases, assisting staff members to speak to a senior member of staff of their chosen sex. This may be useful when discussing issues of a sensitive family or personal nature such as menopause, for example in a female one to one scenario. Understand it’s not you, sometimes people may simply feel they are able to discuss a particular topic more openly with another member of staff. For example, if you have 3 healthy happy grandchildren at home, but your staff member is coming to terms with their daughter’s recent miscarriage, you might not be the right person to speak to at this point.
- Understand that no two members of staff are the same or cope with life events the same. As managers, having a level of flexibility, understanding and approachability may assist in overcoming difficulties relating to age. For instance, Helen may be a very active 63-year-old who regularly swims and walks her dog, however Helga of the same age, may have had significant difficulties with age related osteoporosis, have back pain, frequent fractures and find moving around school carrying books and notes very difficult. Keep a level head and allow for variability.
So we (who will be older workers at some point) need to embrace a varied age range in our working teams and make our workplaces healthier and happier for all employees regardless of age.
To get involved in the Healthy Workplaces for All Ages Campaign or to access their resources visit Healthy Workplaces. If you need extra support or advice on this issues drop us a line at Jamie.firstname.lastname@example.org