Creative Solutions Needed for Issue of Aging Baby Boomers

July 11, 2005 ( - UnumProvident has issued a report addressing the health and productivity issues employers will face as the estimated 78 million baby boomers reach the 40-60 age range.

UnumProvident’s data from its disability database shows workers over the age of 40 account for 51% of all short-term disability claims and 74% of all long-term disability claims. Short-term disability for those under 40 was mostly due to maternity leave, while sickness accounted for 82% of short-term disability claims for those over 40. The main causes for long-term disability among the over 40 age group were cancer (17%) and musculo-skeletal disorders such as an accident or arthritis (25%). The amount of time it takes an employee to recover from illness or accident increases as the employee ages, the company pointed out in a news release.

Employers will need to consider the age factor in designing appropriate return to work scenarios and in setting a threshold for number of days of lost time that will result in termination, UnumProvident said. Employers need to take measures to manage the rise in health care costs as well as the loss of experienced personnel. The report lists several strategies for management such as:

  • creating retirement benefit plans that encourage phased-in retirements
  • offering exercise programs targeted for arthritis
  • targeting educational programs on preventive strategies and applied interventions that can reduce the impact of disease on productivity
  • implementing flexible scheduling and job-sharing opportunities as part of a phased-in retirement of a workforce planning strategy so that older workers can continue to work and pass on knowledge and skills to the younger work force
  • creating career pathways to support transitions from more physically demanding roles to less demanding ones for older employees
  • developing productivity pathways for common impairments experienced by older workers to promote the safe and timely resumption of work
  • promoting a culture that respects and utilizes experience
  • providing training for older employees to enhance skills and learn new ones.

UnumProvident’s report used Coors Brewing Company as an example of an employer that has successfully addressed the problem. The company’s programs do not focus specifically on the older worker, but they effectively deal with the problems relating to the older worker. The company offers many health and productivity programs with incentives to use them, such as a Health Risk appraisal with a $200 premium reduction incentive, a wellness center free to employees and retirees, and an onsite physical therapy and medical center with reduced co-payments or free care and a $10 co-pay for lab tests, according to the report.

As the report noted, recognizing and addressing the connections between the health and productivity of the aging workforce can pay off for employers by reducing health care costs and maintaining skills in the workplace.

UnumProvident’s full report can be found here .