Workers over age 55 could make up 19% of the U.S. work force in 2050, up from 13% at the turn of the millennium, according to the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics.
For employers, retaining loyal, fully trained employees longer can shorten pension payout periods and increase productivity.
For employees, remaining employed can be important for financial or social reasons. One study, by AARP, Washington, has shown that 70% of workers plan to work beyond their “normal” retirement age…or never retire at all.
As the work force ages, employers, employees, insurers and brokers will have to start thinking differently about disability among older workers. The idea that a medical disability past the age of 50 should automatically lead to early retirement no longer holds true.
Even for workers over 55, disability benefits should “bridge the gap” until return to work is possible, not serve as a bridge to early retirement.
Many large employers are trying to prevent disability as well as illness by introducing health and wellness programs. Simply providing effective weight reduction programs could have a big near-term impact on the health, productivity and disability costs of older employees. Employee assistance programs may also prevent disability, by helping workers tackle problems such as depression and alcoholism.
Some employers that already are facing labor shortages, such as hospitals, are trying to retain older workers by designing career paths that let older workers move into less physically demanding positions as they age.