Good practices in age management include those that enhance health and well-being. Not only will healthy working practices and health promotion at work benefit all workers, it will also help companies to reduce costs of absenteeism from ill-health or stress. The changing age structure in the electricity sector raises a number of challenges for companies in developing strategies on health management. This is particularly important as there is a close relationship between occupational stress and long-term health outcomes.
Health and well-being in the workplace are central to realising the potential of all workers, reducing the costs of sickness leave and early retirement related to ill health, and to enhancing productivity. In particular, healthy and active ageing at work are becoming more important for companies seeking to retain older workers and achieve a competitive edge. Studies have shown that one of the main reasons that older people exit the labour market early is because of ill health and/or stressful working conditions.
Increasingly electricity companies are recognising the importance of putting in place programmes of occupational health and safety, health promotion and prevention in the workplace in order to minimise health risks and optimise the quality of working life. These measures can enhance the health and well-being of the workforce and improve health status, reduce sick leave and health related early retirement. They can be the key to extending the working life of older employees. They also send a message that the company culture is one that values its workers and promotes good working conditions.
Older workers, and those working in stressful or heavy work, are also susceptible to common problems such as Repetitive Strain Injury and back pain. Resolving these problems in the workplace through prevention and health promotion will become increasingly important to the retention of older workers and to ensuring that all workers work to their full capacity.
Health and well-being needs to be addressed across the life-cycle, not just when health issues arise for older workers. Work related health problems often have their origins in earlier phases of the people’s working lives. For this reason a focus on health promotion and the prevention of ill health for all workers is central to achieving health and well-being at work at all stages of working life. The participation of employees and trade unions is critical to this and older workers can provide valuable insights, knowledge and experiences of how to resolve health related issues and promote healthy working conditions.
Managing health in the workplace not only addresses the needs of workers as they age, but also the needs of younger workers to maintain healthy lifestyles and working practices. Health management also covers sensitivity to workers ergonomic and physical needs – ranging from simply to complex changes - as well as more active engagement in employee health by promoting and encouraging ongoing health checks and consultations.
What can electricity companies do to promote health and well-being at work?
Identify health risks and health promotion activities as part of an overall strategy
If health and well-being at work is to be taken seriously and addressed across the life-cycle then it is essential that health risks across the company are identified and reviewed regularly. As a starting point it is important to identify health risks in the workplace by carrying out an annual health risk assessment, which should be reviewed regularly in partnership with older workers and trade unions.
Establish a working group on health and well-being in the workplace
One way to develop a company-wide response is to establish a working group on health in the workplace with representatives from all sectors of the company, staff and trade unions. This can help to identify common problems and identify how these can be addressed through health promotion and prevention. In addition, companies can collate data on health issues through a dedicated employee survey on health in the workplace, or alternatively included health issues in regular employee surveys,. Consulting with staff and trade unions is important to identifying key occupational health and safety issues. Workshops, focus groups and working groups can be established for this purpose.
Workplace health checks
Provide regular voluntary health checks for all employees, with more regular health checks for employees over 50 years. In larger companies these can be provided by an on-site doctor or nurse who has knowledge of the workplace, of work tasks and of specific health risks in the workplace. These health checks can also form the basis on any adaptations that need to take place in the work place or in identifying and preventing future health risks. Some groups of workers may face specific or more enduring health risks, for example, those carrying out heavy work, shift and night work, or those that experience stressful working conditions. They may require specific programmes of health promotion and more regular health checks, including those that are gender specific. Workplace health initiatives should place an emphasis on health promotion and prevention of ill health, in addition, to identifying and addressing underlying health problems faced by older workers.
Training of managers and supervisors
Train managers and supervisors in health management and in identifying preventative health measures. It helps to have a manager who is trained in health and well-being in the workplace who can coordinate and implement workplace health initiatives. In addition, this person can also play an advisory role, raising awareness and promoting good health in the workplace.
Healthy eating and hydration
Provide health eating in the staff canteen and ensure that employees have access to fresh fruit and water in the workplace. Subsiding health eating and providing a healthy menu in the staff canteen is one way that this can be achieved. Health promotion programmes can provide dietary advice and healthy eating suggestions. It is also important that workers are properly hydrated at work and have access to water in the workplace.
Fitness at work
The provision of health and fitness sessions in the workplace, subsidised membership of the local gym or local fitness classes, running lunch time fitness sessions, relaxation programme and programmes of stress management are all ways that companies can promote activity and fitness at work.
Subsidies for health insurance
In some countries, companies have negotiated lower health insurance premiums for ‘health-friendly’ companies.
Employee and trade union participation
Employee and trade union participation and consultation is essential if meaningful workplace health initiatives are to be developed. Employees and trade unions can provide valuable insights, ideas and proposals about what can be done in the workplace.
Creating age-conscious workplace design and age conscious occupational health are essential to age management, to improving job satisfaction, working conditions and to retaining older workers. Redeployments of older personnel so that they work in jobs that are suitable to their physical capabilities and that utilise their skills and competences, needs to be carried out in consultation with occupational health personnel, employees and trade unions.
Distribution of work tasks
Distribute work tasks so that older experienced workers take on more complex tasks while younger workers take on more physically demanding tasks, by placing physically challenged older workers in teams with younger fitter workers.
Analysis of workplace and job design
Analysis of workplace design and job functions, carried out in cooperation with trade union health and safety representatives, can make a major contribution to occupational health. This can include examining the position of computer terminals, office design, lighting and seating positions for office workers; as well as minimising the effects of repetitive or heavy work tasks carried out by manual workers. Ergonomic improvements are now recognised as being crucial to health and well-being at work. Organisations can commission an ergonomic review of workplaces or they can train specialists in the company to carry out these reviews.
Workshops on ageing
In some companies providing workshops on ageing or ‘seniors’ training programmes has become one way of providing older workers with information and insights into healthy ageing. While older workers may specifically benefit from such programmes, improving health awareness for all workers is an important element of the life-cycle approach to health and well-being.
Rehabilitation courses for older workers
In some companies rehabilitation courses for older workers can be combined with redeployment, job redesign and job rotation.