COMMENTARY

When It Comes to Work, How Old Is Too Old?

L. Casey Chosewood, MD

May 03, 2011

Editorial Collaboration

Medscape &

In This Article

Benefits of the Aging Workforce for Employers

Employers increasingly see the value that older workers bring to the job. Older workers have greater institutional knowledge and usually more experience. They often possess more productive work habits than their younger counterparts. They report lower levels of stress on the job, and in general, they get along better with their coworkers. Finally, they tend to be more cautious on the job and more likely to follow safety rules and regulations.

Workplaces, often out of necessity, have adapted to older workers. Both the Age Discrimination Employment Act of 1967 and the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 prohibit workplace discrimination based on age or disability, respectively, and support the retention of qualified workers despite limitations that may come from age or disability. However, some employers are more proactive than others, realizing that a well-designed, employee-centered approach to the physical nature and organization of work benefits all workers regardless of their age. Workplace design, the flexibility of the work schedule, and certain ergonomic interventions increasingly focus on the needs of older employees. Many workplace accommodations are easy to make and are inexpensive. Modern orthotics, appropriate flooring and seating, optimal lighting, and new information technology hardware and software can smooth the way to continued work for older individuals. New emphasis on job sharing, flexible work schedules, and work from home can support added years in the job market for many. For a patient who may benefit from such an accommodation, a simple note from you on your prescription pad can facilitate this request.

Although work may not be beneficial for all older persons, for many it is an important avenue to economic security, enhanced social interaction, and improved quality of life. Primary care clinicians can play a vital role in encouraging work when appropriate and by supporting positive health behaviors and interventions that allow work to continue. We can also take steps to manage chronic conditions to support safe, productive work and advocate for our older workers who need special accommodations.

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