Keeping America's Older Workers Strong

Mike Hennessy
Published Online: Monday, January 9, 2012
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Every day, pharmacists see the evidence that America’s population is aging. Whether you work in retail, independent pharmacy, in a health system, long-term care facility, or other setting, there is little doubt that you interact with patients who are experiencing the effects of getting older.

Mark Twain famously quipped, “Age is an issue of mind over matter. If you don’t mind, it doesn’t matter.” For many older Americans who are still in the workforce, aging and its effects do matter—especially in light of the country’s current weak economy. With unemployment still high, job security is of the utmost importance to keep families, businesses, and communities strong.

A recent article in The Wall Street Journal highlights the innovative entrepreneurial ways that some companies are keeping their highly skilled baby boomer employees healthy and productive. At Duke Energy in Charlotte, North Carolina, for example, the average age of power line technicians is 50 to 55 years—a testament to the fact that it takes about 8 years for an employee to master the job’s specialized skills. Workers there can participate in morning stretch routines and learn safer ways to lift and climb to help reduce strain on the body—taking personal responsibility along with their employers for the best possible health scenario and productivity.

Harley-Davidson’s motorcycle engine plant in Menomonee Falls, Wisconsin, is taking similar measures to ensure the health of its older employees. The plant boasts an on-site gym with trainers who create customized exercise routines based on an individual’s job. Employees are encouraged to report any pain or injuries immediately, and ice packs are available at shift changes.

Methods like these are already starting to work. According to government data, the most common work-related injuries—including strains and sprains—are down slightly in the private sector among 55- to 64-year-olds, dropping from 48 per 10,000 workers in 2006 to 42 per 10,000 workers in 2010. Keeping workers healthy will remain vitally important in the coming decades—it is projected that 24% of the US labor force will be 55 years old or older by 2018.

A healthy workforce will also help contribute to a healthy bottom line for businesses and the economy as a whole. When workers stay safe and healthy, businesses have reduced medical insurance and worker’s compensation costs. They can also count on higher productivity and fewer workdays lost to illness or injury. Healthy, thriving businesses are the key to getting our economy back on its feet in 2012.

In this age-conscious society, it is also heartening to see that American businesses value the experience and knowledge of the baby boomer population. As Ronald Reagan once said, “Putting people first has always been America’s secret weapon. It’s the way we’ve kept the spirit of our revolutions alive—a spirit that drives us to dream and dare, and take great risks for a greater good.”

As pharmacists, you use this “secret weapon” every time you put patients first. The information and resources you will find in this month’s Aging Population issue, plus our valuable online resources on www.PharmacyTimes.com, will help you continue to serve the “greater good” by providing the best possible patient care to seniors every day.

Thank you for reading!

Mike Hennessy



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