Employee health for older workers counts – a lot May 3rd, 2013, by Ken Buckley

New research from Monash University has highlighted an important and often ignored issued: the cost of poor health in older employees. [See summary here, or the full report here (PDF).]

The research findings are unsurprising: if older workers were healthier, they would be more productive and would stay in the workforce longer.

While these findings in themselves are bit obvious, I still find this research significant for two reasons:

1. Employee health and productivity

Firstly, the researchers found that the health of older workers has a greater impact on productivity than the health of younger workers.

Says researcher Dr George Verikios, “By looking at chronic disease and the associated rate of health decline of workers, we found reducing poor health in older workers would have a much greater effect on the Australian economy than similar reductions for younger workers.

“Workforce participation by younger workers is less affected by their health compared with older workers, so there are smaller benefits from improving the health of younger workers,” Dr Verikios said.

2. Older workers often overlooked in workplace health

Secondly, the research puts a well-deserved spotlight on the issue of workplace health for older workers (which the research classes as 49+).

It’s rarely intentional, but older workers are often neglected in corporate health & wellness programs. Focus tends to be on engaging the Gen Ys and Gen Xers. Sometimes, more influential senior employees are brought onboard to lead, support and encourage the troops, but they are rarely the target of the general group-based programs.

Some more enlightened organisations are now seeing the benefits of one-on-one coaching for older employees with serious health risks, such as our Wellness Coaching, and I’m glad to see this trend is on the rise.  However, for the most part, health and wellness managers generally find it’s the unhealthy older males and females who are the hardest to reach.

This Monash University research gives even further credence to previous research which shows a direct link between productivity and risk factors for chronic diseases. It makes sense that those with poor diet and exercise habits, or those who suffer from obesity, diabetes or heart disease, are more likely to be off sick and less likely to be productive when at work.

The bottom line

Programs which specifically target older workers with more serious health problems are not sexy or cool. They probably won’t strengthen your jazzy, dynamic employer brand, but chances are they will result in a much higher ROI on your overall productivity and related costs.


Healthworks is one of Australia’s leading and most successful corporate wellness companies. We offer innovative health and wellness solutions to companies across Australia. Visit the Healthworks website to find out how we can help you create a healthier, more productive workforce.


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