Sustainable work means achieving safe and healthy working conditions that enable people to stay in and engage in work.
In the last 30 years, population demographics have changed and people are living longer. Simultaneously, the number of people of working age has reduced but the number of people who have retired has increased, putting pressure on pension budgets.
A number of national policies have also changed, resulting in retirement and pension ages being increased to encourage people to work longer and reduce the level of skill and experience leaving the workforce. While many people can continue to work without problems, features of the workplace itself and the practicalities of getting to and from work can become problematic. The loss of default retirement ages (apart from some sectors) has made understanding age-related change essential, as well as understanding the health and capabilities that people bring to work.
While the number of older workers has increased, taking a life-course approach there is still a need to protect workers of all ages. As an example, musculoskeletal problems are often cumulative, so prevention needs to happen from entry into the workplace. While older workers may be at reduced risk of an accident through work experience, fatalities data tells us they are more at risk of a fatal accident.
In developing sustainable work, we need to understand who is in our future workforce, and what their motivations and skills are. While older workers may be more at risk of ill health, understanding which workplace changes can support them to either stay in or return to work is essential.
Our research has considered the impact of work on age, and the impact of age on work, as well as providing a better understanding of the need for rehabilitation and return to work processes. Working across different disciplines our research has highlighted the need for a multidisciplinary approach to manage age, workability, employability and rehabilitation and return to work.
We are leaders in this area because we have worked on a number of research and consultancy projects with other collaborators and disciplines to take a holistic view of the issues around ageing and work, and this experience enables us to give authoritative advice and guidance.
Protecting worker is in our DNA. While the number of older workers has increased, there is still a need to protect workers of all ages taking a life course approach. As an example, musculoskeletal problems are often cumulative, so prevention needs to happen from entry to the workplace. Older workers may be more at risk of ill health, understanding which workplace changes can support them to both stay in and return to work is essential. Understanding who is in our future workforce, what are their motivations and skills and develop well-timed sustainable work methods accordingly.