With the news full of reports of labour shortages, immigration curbs and ongoing health...read more
Action taken as a result of panicking can end up making things worse rather than better, and this could be the case with policy around older workers.
Don’t panic about getting older workers who have retired back to work. Panic about the ones who haven’t retired, the people who have dropped out due to ill health or disability – including depression, and those who are likely to drop out for similar reasons in the future. That includes both the youngest and the oldest where dropping out for health reasons has risen in recent years, with mental health a big reason among the young and something that needs much greater attention than it is getting.
The panic/don’t panic message concluded a Resolution Foundation meeting earlier this week which started from the basis that the Government is indeed panicking when it comes to the number of older people who have dropped out of the workplace in recent years, but is failing to understand the nature of the problem and therefore coming up with solutions that may not actually address it successfully.
The meeting heard that, while there was optimism that the number of older people retiring early could be brought down and scepticism about how many of those who have retired early could be brought back, the health issue is not as easily fixable, particularly with long waiting times, staff shortages in the NHS and a social care crisis exacerbating the problem.
There may be ways of helping the physically and mentally unwell stay in the workforce, or take a break while their job is kept open – similar to what happens with maternity leave – but the detail of how this is done is not yet clear. One of the speakers at the Resolution Foundation event was Dr Fiona Aldridge, Head of Insight at West Midlands Combined Authority, who spoke of the Thrive into work programme; which adopts a personalised approach to health and disability both to encourage retention and to help people find employment. This involves health service professionals working with employers to create the right kind of jobs for people with health or disability issues. That sounds promising, but generally this is something that has to be carefully handled.
Occupational health psychology expert Professor Gail Kinman has raised some of the issues to think about, such as who would be delivering this support and how would they be trained? She says different people have different rehabilitation needs and an in-depth understanding of the type of job they do and how their health problems restrict their abilities are crucial. She fears the rush to get people back to work or to stop those who are sick, particularly those with mental health problems, taking time off could in fact make things worse.
The problem with panicking is that the wider picture and how everything links up is sidelined in favour of some easy headlines and what looks like action. But if the action is not the right one, it can be very expensive – not only in terms of money, but also people’s wellbeing and prospects for the future.