How to Support Our Aging WorkforceMar 10, 2023
Canada has an aging population, with the percentage of people over 65 years old projected to reach almost 25% by 20511. According to Statistics Canada, this is a major demographic shift for Canada. In 2021, the number of people aged 65 and over surpassed the number of children aged 0 to 14 for the first time.
This shift in demographics is causing a significant change in the workforce, with the number of retirees increasing as well as more and more older workers staying in the workforce for longer periods. The average age of retirement in Canada is 63, but it's becoming more common for workers to delay their retirement due to various reasons such as financial stability, health concerns, and personal fulfillment. A 2023 report found that 63% of workers said that the recent economic climate has affected their plans to retire early2. In 2019, about 15% of Canadians aged 65 to 69 were still working, compared to only 8% in 19971.
This presents new challenges for employers, who must accommodate the health needs of an aging workforce while maintaining productivity and safety in the workplace.
Concerns for Aging Workers in the Workplace
In addition to the physical and cognitive health concerns faced by older workers, they may also face ageism in the workplace. Ageism is defined as prejudice or discrimination against individuals or groups based on their age. In the workplace, this can manifest in a variety of ways, including:
- Hiring discrimination: Older workers may face discrimination in the hiring process, with employers preferring to hire younger workers who are perceived as being more energetic and up-to-date with technology.
- Stereotyping: Older workers may be unfairly labeled as slow, inflexible, or resistant to change, which can affect their opportunities for career advancement and promotions.
- Pay disparities: Older workers may earn lower salaries or receive fewer benefits than their younger colleagues, even if they have the same job title and responsibilities.
- Lack of support: Older workers may not receive the same level of support or resources as younger workers, such as training and development opportunities or access to new technology.
The impact of ageism in the workplace can be significant, leading to decreased job satisfaction, reduced productivity, and even early retirement for older workers. To address this issue, employers can take a number of steps, including:
- Implementing diversity and inclusion policies that prohibit age discrimination in all forms
- Providing training and education to supervisors and employees on the impact of ageism in the workplace
- Encouraging a culture of respect and understanding, where all workers are valued for their contributions and abilities, regardless of their age
- Offering career development and training opportunities to all workers, regardless of their age
- Conducting regular audits to monitor for ageism in hiring, promotions, and pay practices
Addressing ageism in the workplace is not only important for the well-being of older workers, but also for the overall success and competitiveness of the organization. By valuing the contributions of older workers and accommodating their health needs, employers can create a supportive and inclusive workplace for all workers, regardless of age.
Older workers are more likely to have chronic health conditions, such as arthritis, heart disease, and dementia. As workers age, they will start to experience natural declines in strength, flexibility, balance, motor skills, vision, and hearing. These conditions and physical limitations can impact their ability to perform their job duties and may also affect their safety in the workplace. Wear and tear injuries, such as in the knees, shoulders, and lower back, increase with age. Cognitive conditions may make learning, memory, and multitasking more difficult for an older worker. Considerations for workplace design and provision of accommodations to help older employees stay in the workplace, safe and productively, are imperative.
Workplace Accommodations to Support an Aging Workforce
To accommodate the health needs of older workers, employers may need to make changes to the workplace environment, work processes, or equipment. Some strategies for accommodating older workers include:
- Providing ergonomic equipment and workstations to reduce physical strain
- Modifying work hours or schedules to allow for regular breaks
- Providing accommodations for workers with cognitive concerns, such as extra time for decision-making or memory aids
- Providing alternative or modified duties for workers with physical limitations that reduce the need for crouching, squatting, stair and ladder climbing, reaching overhead, bending, etc.
- Ensuring font sizes can be modified and there is appropriate contrast on written documents
- Improving lighting conditions in the workplace
- Adjusting communication methods in noisy areas, reducing background noise, and building in other types of visual cues
Accommodating for Cognitive Concerns and Chronic Health Conditions
For workers with cognitive concerns or chronic health conditions, the accommodation process may need to be tailored to their specific needs. Some strategies for accommodating older workers with these conditions include:
- Offering flexibility in scheduling or working hours to accommodate medical appointments
- Providing on-the-job support, such as a mentor or buddy system, to help workers with cognitive concerns
- Providing access to counseling or support groups for workers with chronic health conditions
How Can Gowan Consulting Help?
Gowan Consulting has Occupational Therapy resources to ensure the safety and wellness of your employees and work environment. We provide assessments, program consultation, and training to cover all your workplace health needs.
- Contact us to provide a consultation on your organization’s health and safety programs and to provide an accessibility audit.
- Make a referral for an ergonomic or accommodation assessment to help your employees get the tools and strategies they need to succeed at work.
- Take our Psychological Safety at Work Training or Leadership Training on Mental Health, Accommodations, and Inclusion to learn how to build your psychologically safe workplace. Our online workshops and courses cover all the areas of psychological risks within the workplace and assists employers in assessing and reducing the risk by implementing strategies and tools within the workplace.
- Contact us to assess the job demands of your workplace. Our functional assessments and physical, cognitive, and visual demands analyses objectively quantify the essential demands of a job and its tasks. Our Occupational Therapists can assist with assessing the job match for an employee with functional limitations.
 Statistics Canada. (2022, April 27). In the midst of high job vacancies and historically low unemployment, Canada faces record retirements from an aging labour force: number of seniors aged 65 and older grows six times faster than children 0-14. Accessed from https://www150.statcan.gc.ca/n1/daily-quotidien/220427/dq220427a-eng.htm
 Franklin Templeton. (2023). Voice of the American Worker Survey: Financial anxiety reshaping expectations for benefits. Accessed from https://www.franklintempleton.com/insights/research-findings/voice-of-the-american-worker-survey