Embracing Aging in the Workplace

June 20, 2017

A “demographic time bomb” is how former Fit For Work Occupational Medicine Specialist Dr Chris Sharp describes the Western world’s increasingly aging population.

The United Nations expects that the number of people aged 60 years and older will more than double by 2050. This will have the biggest repercussions for developed countries. In New Zealand, one in every five people will be aged 65 plus by 2031. For the first time in this country, there will be more people aged 65 and over, than children under 15.

Dr Sharp says an aging population creates an aging workforce. With fewer young workers entering the labour market, older people will need to work longer and receive their pensions later.

So what will be the impact of more aged employees in the workplace?

Doctor Sharps says, it is important to note that chronological age is not a determinant of health and does not automatically lead to illness. Lifestyle changes can also help to mitigate the onset and effects of illness in old age.  

“People often view older workers as being less productive. There is this unconscious bias against their abilities which can result in an unwillingness to employ them”.

However, research shows that older people do not generally take more sick days than younger workers and have fewer workplace accidents. “They have usually had more experience on the job and are less likely to take risks which could result in an accident,” Dr Sharp says.  

“Older workers also have different motivations. “Younger people are more focused on climbing up the corporate ladder, while older workers are often driven by wanting to do something significant and make a difference.”

“We must encourage older people to remain in jobs longer as this will create a potential solution to future economic challenges. It is important to remember that many jobs can be adjusted to accommodate different workers,” he says.

Doctor Sharp says there are many ways employers can retain and attract older workers. This includes offering training and re-skilling opportunities and considering part-time options for people, who are unwilling or unable to commit to full-time hours.


Aging in the Workplace. Nicolson P, Mayho G, Robson S & Sharp C. British Medical Association, London. September 2016. ISBN 978-0-9575831-5-3.

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