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When using 0—19 years and 60 years and older as the criterion for dependents, a completely different level of age dependency ratio can be calculated. For example, in the EU there will be more than 80 dependents for each employed persons in The main conclusions that can be drawn from these EU statistics are summarised in the box below.

A general conclusion is that the employment rate of aging workers 55 years and older must be increased greatly. The key question is how?

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Before possible concepts and actions for solutions are introduced, some essential changes in human resources during aging should be briefly illustrated. Much scientific data and excellent textbooks describe the physical, mental, and social aging processes. In the field of occupational health there has been a growing interest since the s in research on the changes in human resources in relation to work demands and aging. An increasing amount of data show that the effects of aging on work life should be taken into consideration more often and efforts should be made to increase the employment rate of aging workers.

The Center on Aging & Work at Boston College

Changes in physical work capacity have often concentrated on the cardiovascular and musculoskeletal systems, body structure, and some important sensory systems. In practice, this level of cardiorespiratory capacity would correspond to work in a sitting position or light work while standing.

Moving from one place to another or, for example, lifting and carrying loads, will easily exceed oxygen consumption of 1. A low age related cardiorespiratory capacity means that the majority of auxiliary female jobs, such as cleaning, nursing, and homecare work, can overload workers and have negative health consequences in the long run.

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Therefore, it is very important, especially, among the aging female population, that:. Changes in musculoskeletal capacity can also be pronounced after the age of 45—50 years. The decrease was 4—5 times greater than in cross sectional studies.

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For aging blue collar male workers the recommendation is the same as for female workers, namely, physical work load should decline with advancing age. The decline of physical capacities can be compensated by regular exercise, but the ethical question is to what extent it can be required of blue collar workers? A more balanced and accepted concept for a solution would be:. Generally, the changes in physical capacity in relation to aging are often difficult to distinguish because, for example, work and living habits can accelerate or slow down such changes.

Therefore individual differences are enormous among aging workers. Regular physical exercise can keep physical capacity nearly unchanged between 45—65 years, and a lack of appropriate exercise can make a 45 year old worker less fit than his or her active colleague aged 65 years. Unfortunately, only a small proportion of the aging working population is physically active during leisure time, and the figures are lowest for blue collar workers. The minimal amount of exercise needed daily to prevent a premature decline in physical capacity and musculoskeletal or cardiovascular disorders is still an open question, although excellent reviews are available.

Mental functional capacity is often defined as the ability to perform different tasks that require intellectual and other kinds of mental effort. Cognitive functions, such as perception, memory, learning, thinking, and the use of language have been the primary targets of research. Another central area of mental capacity is the relation between the individual and the outside world—for example, self concept, self value, perceived competency, and control of life.

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The newest component is that of metacognition, which involves the evaluation of a person's own cognitive functioning. Mental health, physical well being and, for example, attitudes towards one's own aging are closely related to mental capacity. From the point of view of work life the most important changes in mental functions are related to the weakening of precision and the speed of perception.

The changes concern the entire human system for processing information: Apparently the functioning of all three systems slows with age. The actual functions of information processing change very little in the course of one's career.

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Moreover, some cognitive functions, such as control of use of language or the ability to process complex problems in insecure situations, improve with age. In most work tasks, speed and precision can be substituted by the high motivation of aging workers and the experience and wisdom they have assembled throughout their work life. Even though the speed of learning may slow with age, the actual learning process is not dependent on a person's age.

Strong motivation to learn can also compensate for the slower learning speed. According to the literature, some mental characteristics can also strengthen with age. Aging and mental growth View this table: View inline View popup. Experience, work performance, and aging together form interesting interactions.

The positive effects of job experience can be directed towards basic cognitive processes or job performance. If, instead, job experience directly improves or maintains job performance, the link between job experience and cognitive skills remains undeveloped. Both of these mechanisms of job experience are possible and can explain why job performance does not weaken with age fig 3. A more creative use of job experience can significantly improve the coping of aging workers in work life.

The job performance of older workers has been shown to be at least as productive as that of younger workers. The results between age groups have been found to be the same in skill demanding and speed demanding jobs. Interrelation between age, experience, and work performance. Changes in physical and mental functions during working age show both similar and different trends. Interestingly, the weakening of physical functions does not hinder improvement in some mental functions.

This contrast is even more surprising because the prevalence and incident rates of diseases increase greatly with age. Perhaps the deterioration of health acts as a catalyst for mental growth. On the basis of the changes found in physical and mental functions during aging, one general conclusion can be drawn: In the late s a new concept on work ability was introduced by the Finnish Institute of Occupational Health.


Human resources can be described by 1 health and functional capacities physical, mental, social , 2 education and competence, 3 values and attitudes, and 4 motivation. When this comprehensive set of individual factors is related to 5 work demands physical, mental , 6 work community and management, and 7 work environment, the outcome can be called the individual work ability fig 4. The work ability concept is a dynamic process that changes greatly for several reasons throughout an individual's work life. One of the main factors inducing change is aging and its effects on human resources.

The other large source of change aging workers must face is the change in the nature of work. Work organisations, work methods and tools, and also work loads are changing today faster than human resources can easily adapt.

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For example, the implementation of new technology has often caused more problems than positive challenges for aging workers. The dynamics needed to fit human resources to the new work demands have often been left undeveloped and have therefore caused the displacement of many workers over the age of 55 years from the labour market.

It has been often incorrectly argued that their competency is no longer sufficient and their experiences are less valid. However, the major reason has often been the uncontrolled changes that have occurred in work and the lack of adjustments urgently needed for fitting their resources to the new work demands. The common need to blame the worker should be redirected towards those responsible for planning and carrying out changes at work, who overlook the need for adjustments.

As soon as the shortage of manpower becomes acute, the attitudes towards aging workers will change and adjustments will be demanded for practical solutions. Therefore, the focus of research and actions taken in the late s has been: New concept of work ability, emphasising that individual work ability is a process of human resources in relation to work.

Employability is a new term describing the actions needed to improve the rate of employment. It includes employment, education and exit policies, a large variety of social and health services, and also, for example, the general prevention of age discrimination. The concept of employability is still developing but it can currently be described mainly by powerful characteristics and infrastructures needed at the level of society for better employment of all age groups.

However, the belief that employability alone can solve the problems of employment is misleading, at least for aging workers. The modern concept and the latest experiences show that there are two main processes that affect the employment rate of aging workers, one being the promotion of work ability, and the other being the development of employability fig 5. The promotion of work ability is a basic process that is needed before the features of employability can be fully utilised.

The content of work ability was introduced in fig 4 , and it emphasises that action is needed at both the worksite and the individual level. The most effective combination is the integration of the adjustments needed in the work community and work environment, as in aspects of individual health and functional capacities and professional competence. The results of follow up studies and experiences in the s show, for example, that the following single actions can improve work ability during aging:. The results are better if several actions are integrated. The consequences of improved work ability can be measured as better work productivity and quality of work and the better well being and life quality of aging workers.

The long term effects of actions have been measured as a better third age quality fig 6. The basic concept for the promotion of work ability is the same for all age groups. However, the adjustments needed and single actions to be carried out are age dependent. Therefore tailoring is needed that is based on the effects of aging on work ability. Together they can be powerful tools for improving employment at all ages, especially for aging workers.

An orientation matrix, shown in fig 7 , has been constructed describing the relations between the problems, solutions, and goals of the individual worker, the enterprise or organisation, and society. The nine fields of the matrix can be read vertically, horizontally or diagonally. The vertical level stresses the possibility for these groups to share the responsibility of keeping aging workers in work life, and therefore the measures needed to solve the problems can be better planned and more focused. On the horizontal level the dimensions of recognising problems, choosing solutions, and setting goals depict the fact that solutions are available and objectives can be brought into focus from the point of view of the individual, the enterprise or society.

The horizontal level emphasises action. The diagonal arrows between the worker and enterprise dimensions depict the strong connection between the two. The key words of the matrix have been chosen on the basis of data from a large set of studies from the s. The words are not arranged according to their significance and they are mentioned only once. The better the goals of the individual and the enterprise are met, the better society's objectives and results succeed depicted in the lower right hand corner of the matrix.

The company is the most important, however, because it is responsible for the realisation of the individual's participation in work. A European portfolio of good practice has shown that companies in different member states of the EU have used similar basic solutions to combat age barriers in employment. Interventions and Promising Practices in the Aging Workplace, is now available here. Productive Aging and Work: Theory, Health Data, and Practical Solutions , is now available here. A NIOSH fact sheet for both workers and employers that provides practical recommendations for crash prevention.

Designing the Age Friendly Workplace: A website with practical tools, insightful videos, and digital stories for helping organizations take action in preparing for the aging workforce. Age Awareness Training for Miners: Comprehensive NIOSH training curriculum focusing on the mining sector, with relevance and useful information for any sector with an aging workforce. A step-by-step training guide to teach young workers about job safety and health. September 11, Page last updated: September 17, Content source: