Ageing, Work and Retirement

Date: 19 January 2011

The Government has recently confirmed that 2011 will see the end to the default retirement age in the UK. Similar changes are happening across the Europe, Australia and the USA, all as a consequence of increased longevity and the consequent economic difficulties of funding people in their retirement. There are many positive aspects associated with people working longer but older workers have specific needs to ensure that they can function safely and effectively in the workplace. Managers need to be aware of these issues as they adapt to the changing workplace demographic.

As we age there are some increasing limitations to our physical and mental capabilities, but not all of those changes prevent individuals from continuing to work. In 2009, IOM was sponsored by the Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (IOSH) to carry out a review of the health, safety and health promotion needs of older workers. The full report and guidance documentation (published in December 2010) is freely available on their website. The review identified that age-related physical and psychological changes can reduce the ability to work but there are large individual differences in how individuals may be affected and improvements can be made by both physical and mental activity. Furthermore individuals compensate for reduced speed with improved accuracy and increased experience and knowledge. Although the risk of chronic illness increases with age, specific workplace or work organisation changes can be put in place to allow continued working; however ill health is not necessarily an outcome of age.


IOM are continuing our research activities on ageing and work and developing research links with professionals in the social sciences and business. We will participate in the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) seminar series 'Rethinking Retirement' where Dr Joanne Crawford will present a paper on, 'Fit for purpose: current and future impacts of health on retirement decisions'. This talk will explore the processes involved in deciding whether someone should retire, taking into account their health status along with other personal and job factors and how individuals make such decisions. Joanne will argue that it is important that future research examines all of those factors so that business practice can properly support individuals. She has also been invited to present at a one day conference on managing retirement on the 23rd of February 2011. The topic is developing health programmes for older workers and the one day event is aimed at HR Directors and managers.


The debate about ageing and work also continues within the occupational health and safety arena, and we plan to contribute to future professional conferences dealing with this topic. Joanne will present our views on this important policy area at Health and Wellbeing at Work 2011 in the ergonomics session on managing mental and physical workload.

Joanne will also take part in a panel discussion at IOSH 2011 on 'Tackling the health and safety challenges of working with an ageing workforce'. Further information about this is available on the conference website.


IOM is able to offer evidence-based advice and support to companies to help them manage an older workforce. We have ergonomics specialists who can provide advice on workplace design, work organisation, work capacity and mental wellbeing. Our occupational health team deal with issues of fitness for work; occupational health needs assessment and policy development. Other specialists are available to tackle specific issues as they arise.

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