Chris Evans: Should employers provide healthcare perks for older workers?

Despite the fact that age discrimination legislation allows employers to restrict access to certain insured benefits beyond state pension age, many organisations are now starting to realise it is beneficial for long-term business strategies to respond to the challenges of an ageing workforce. Exemptions do not apply to certain health provisions, such as screening and flu jabs, but there are many other health matters related to an elderly workforce.

Older staff are naturally more susceptible to ill-health in terms of incidence, severity and recovery, which has various implications for the employer. While organisations may promote NHS provision to target certain health risk groups, such as NHS smoking cessation, this is not a one-size-fits-all strategy. A report by the Institute for Employment Studies, An ageing workforce: the employer’s perspective, in October 2009, found that about one-third of the workforce is managing a chronic illness by the age of 50, and general health issues are the primary driver of early retirement. This adds to work-related musculoskeletal disorders, which are one of the most common and increasing causes of absence and long-term incapacity.

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How much an employer invests over and beyond ‘standard’ adds perceived value to the business and helps attract, retain and motivate older, experienced staff. Targeted benefits that help detect or mitigate health problems are also likely to generate the greatest engagement among existing staff and could minimise risk exposure. So making provision relevant, rather than topping up for older workers, produces a benefits strategy that reflects employees’ changing needs throughout their working life, offering the greatest likelihood of success.

– Chris Evans, senior consultant at Buck Consultants