Aging in the Office
Oct 13, 2016 10:18AM
By Doug Schuring
The older workforce is continuously growing. By 2022, the number of workers over the age of 54 is projected to increase by nearly 40 percent, due largely to baby boomers working past typical retirement age. Older workers’ valuable experience contributes to their companies’ productivity. Yet, they experience natural age-related conditions that compromise peak performance. Paying attention to ergonomic principles in office furniture and work practices can improve and enhance older workers’ ability to effectively contribute.
An older workforce brings stability and institutional memory to a company. In fact, older workers often impart knowledge to new hires—which is a proven way new workers learn how to do their jobs. C-level employees often become mentors, developing younger talent. Older workers at all job levels tend to be more motivated, with lower rates of absenteeism.
The down side is there’s no denying age-related functional limitations. Fortunately, steps can be taken in everyday office tasks to prevent strain or injury. These include: understanding sound ergonomics and methods of human factors, along with teaching how to recognize the principles of universal design, regardless of age, or physical limitations.
Age affects the musculoskeletal system by reducing one’s strength. Muscles and tendons weaken. Similarly, bones become more porous, and cartilage can degenerate—both of which are considered a normal consequence of aging. Musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) often involve back, hand, shoulder, and arm pain.
While 62 percent of men and women between ages 51 and 61 report one or more MSDs, work-related MSDs are difficult to separate from those caused outside the office. Employers should be proactive in making sure tasks neither cause MSDs nor make them worse.
These Steps Will Assist Workers of All Ages:
Ergonomically designed seating with effective lumbar support is essential for an office chair. Armrests are doubly important for the older worker to support forearms during typing, and to help rising from the chair.
Encourage breaks. Short stretch breaks disrupt the repetitive arm/wrist/finger motions of keyboard and mouse usage. Standing to work is more available today, and should be done approximately 18 minutes every hour.
Other Age-Related Changes
Hearing loss occurs at a rate of 2–3.5 percent per year throughout life, meaning, a 50-year-old may miss what a 25-year-old hears clearly. Also, an older worker is less able to tune out background noise.
Vision changes begin to affect most people in their 40s or 50s. While the amount of light needed to see increases, the time it takes for eyes to adjust to changing levels also increases.
Addressing these limitations may require individually adjustable task lighting, reducing the pace of presentation in training situations, using larger type in instructional materials, and employing sound-masking techniques to dampen background noise. Though these changes are intended to help older workers, such steps are likely to benefit all workers.
Recognizing both sensory and musculoskeletal differences in older workers means adapting the workplace to offer them as much comfort and safety as possible. It also means encouraging ergonomically sound ways of working. These adjustments help younger workers as well, who will continue to benefit from them as their generations mature. B2B