Dominic Howard looks at what considerations advisers need to make as the ageing workforce quickly matures
Take a look at your work colleagues. Are they looking a bit grey? Getting on a bit? It wouldn’t be surprising if they are: the first of the post-war ‘Baby Boomers’ hit retirement age around 2010 and there is a huge population wave fast maturing behind, many of whom are planning on working on into their retirement years.
This greying of the workforce is changing our market, as the health issues affecting workers change with their age.
Most advisers working in employee benefits, whether with small to medium enterprises or large multinationals, are going to need to factor age into the range of products and services they offer clients. Even those industries, such as IT, currently considered youthful, will in time succumb to the inevitable.
So just how big a sea change are we looking at? Well, in 2014 the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) published Fuller Working Lives, which revealed that there are already more over-50s in employment than ever before.
It pointed to labour market data showing 4.86 million men and 4.14 million women over 50 are now in work: increases of about half a million respectively over the previous four years.
The Office for National Statistics (ONS) predicts there will be 3.7 million more workers between 50 and state pension age over the next decade. Meanwhile, the ONS says there will be 700,000 fewer working people aged between 16 and 41.
The challenge is to remain healthy and well: work and life are the same continuum and provide equal opportunities for everyone to minimise the risk of ill health. But the work place is too full of barriers such as lack of exercise, poor diet and excess alcohol intake at business meetings, and the stress of work pressures and long hours.
It has also calculated that, since 2013, the UK’s workforce has included more than a million people aged over 65. One in 10 people over 65 are still working.
Big change in the over-50s market
A recent report from Cigna points to some significant changes in the over-50s market.
A time of life that would once have been seen as twilight is now viewed as a time of adventure, opportunity, and change. Older people are refusing to be defined by their age and they will bristle at being put into a box marked ‘past it’ or labelled as ‘grey’ or ‘silver surfer’.
The company points to average life expectancy increasing at a remarkable pace. The length of time humans expect to live grows by two and a half years every decade, which amounts to average longevity for the population in modern societies rising by six hours every day. The point at which people consider themselves to be ‘old’ is extending further into the late 60s as people recognise that they have decades of active life ahead.
While an ageing workforce has benefits (think of all that experience) there will be big challenges related to health.
Already, musculoskeletal and mental health issues make up the bulk of health related problems in most industries, but with an older workforce, they will become an even greater problem – and new difficulties will emerge.
Professor Juhani Ilmarinen, of the Finnish Institute of Occupational Health, is a specialist on the subject. His research has found that in the first 15 countries to join the European Union around 40% of men and women older than 45 years old reported that work affected their musculoskeletal and mental health, with another 40% also reporting work-induced stress symptoms.
Professor Ilmarinen’s work reported sickness absence rates of at least three days a year directly caused by work in 33% of men and 38% of women.
The DWP says half of Britons aged between 50 and state pension age have a long-term health condition. The Mental Health Foundation adds that depression affects one in five older people and that 70% of new cases of depression in this age group are related to poor physical health.
Consultant Orthopedic Surgeon Mr Colin Natali is the medical director of rehabilitation clinic Back2Normal and a medical adviser for several insurance companies. He points out that as we age, the sicknesses we encounter become more complex and we move more easily from acute illnesses to chronic conditions.