change, characterised by an ageing population and longer life expectancy, is
putting pressure on social security systems, in particular old-age pension
systems. In many countries, the standard retirement age has been increased and
obstacles to early retirement have been put in place. The aim behind this is to
keep people working longer.
In its report ‘Working at older ages: Why it’s important, how it affects health, and the
policy options to support health capacity for work’, the European Observatory
on Health Systems and Policies looked at what effect a longer working life has
on health, what effects it has on social security systems, what can be done to ensure
the good health of older working people and what options there are for
policy-makers in this area.
Living longer = staying healthy longer?
Increased life expectancy
has little or no effect on people’s morbidity. Retirement is usually
accompanied by an improvement in a person’s health. Having to work longer can
lead to a deterioration in health. It is therefore important to take into
account the possible social, economic and health costs associated with an
increase in retirement age. Simply focusing on increasing retirement age could
easily produce the opposite of the intended stabilising effect.
must therefore have the health capacity to work longer. A major obstacle to companies
implementing health initiatives for older workers is the widespread
misconception that older workers are less productive. Promoting good health in
the workplace is more likely to benefit younger workers, even though older
workers need it more.
for longer working lives are most effective when their focus is on maintaining
the ability to work or returning people back to the workplace. Particularly
effective are multidisciplinary approaches that combine counselling, patient
education, behavioural training and psychotherapy, as well as those that not only
focus on workers but also involve supervisors. Whereas these workplace
interventions have positive effects on workers with musculoskeletal disorders, they
have almost no effect on workers with a mental illness. Mental illnesses are a
major source of disability pensions. Policymakers should therefore create
framework conditions that allow mental illnesses to receive better healthcare.
older employees tend not to benefit from government disability regulations,
such as mandatory employment quotas for people with a disability, they can be
supported by regulations which encourage integration by helping them to stay in
the workforce or to return to work. This can be done through rehabilitation, improvements
in the workplace or allowing workers to receive disability benefits while also
earning an income.
employees have great potential to contribute economically. There should be
explicit interventions that allow older workers to benefit from workplace
programmes and policies that help maintain their productivity while also promoting
their physical and mental health.