Risk Insider: Joe Galusha
The Real Impact of Baby Boomers
The average workers’ compensation claim costs for injured employees 45 and older have recently skyrocketed. I see it taking a toll on many companies’ bottom lines. This is evidence that businesses should take a deeper look at their organization, drilling down into the impact of an aging workforce on not only workers’ compensation claim costs but also the physiological impact of aging on its employees’ ability to perform work. This is referred to as ageonomics.
Recent research points to remarkable and somewhat disturbing trends regarding the prevalence and impact of age in the workplaces and the diminishing health of the U.S. workforce. Let’s take a look at the facts, according to the Center for Disease Control and the Bureau of Labor Statistics:
- Forty-four percent of the U.S. workforce is 45 or older.
- Of this group, the number of people in the 45 to 55 age group has increased 49 percent over the last decade.
- Nearly 40 percent of workers age 45 and older suffer from the impacts of obesity, which not only can impact the healing process after an injury but complicate health issues leading to a future occurrence.
- With age comes decreased muscle strength, lower dexterity, reduced fitness level and aerobic capacity, poor visual and auditory acuity, and slower cognitive speed and function.
As to the impact on an organization’s bottom line, a 2013 study of more than 100 companies revealed workers’ compensation claims for the 45 and older age group were on average more than 70 percent more costly. The study revealed these claimants were away from work on average more than two and a half weeks longer following a serious injury and the claims were 40 percent more likely to involve litigation.
Additionally, a 2013 Gallup poll indicated 37 percent of working Americans expect to retire after age 65 compared to 22 percent of respondents in a similar poll just 10 years ago. To me, this brings to light that an aging workforce is not a short term issue. In fact, age demographic trends have researchers predicting this issue will be prevalent well beyond 2025.
I have seen proactive organizations respond positively to this workforce shift by rethinking the physical and cognitive demands placed on workers and modifying post injury medical management and return to work efforts. Common workplace modifications include simple solutions, such as improved lighting to accommodate reduced pupil size of the older worker and adjusting shelf heights in storage areas to adapt for reductions in range of motion and spinal strength.
Companies are also beginning to use advanced predictive modelling techniques to improve medical management and shorten days away from work following an injury. Finally, with the large number of baby boomers staying in the workforce, companies are beginning to align wellness efforts and resources to improve the health of an aging America.
I suggest organizations of all sizes seek to understand the true impact of an aging workforce and explore the options that can help keep your bottom line even in the era of ageonomics.