This paper expands on the evidence presented in the Willing to Work Inquiry regarding the link between health and workforce participation. As a critical factor of ongoing workforce participation it is important to analyse how improvements in health and related workplace practices can facilitate and enhance policies aimed at increasing the workforce participation of older people.
Significantly, current evidence shows that:
- People with ‘fair’ or ‘poor’ health status are less likely to be employed. This effect is felt more acutely by older workers and those with multiple chronic health conditions.
- Those who retire for health reasons, retire on average earlier than those retiring for any other reason.
- There is a significant cost to government, business and individuals, as a result of this reduced workforce participation.
The National prevalence survey of age discrimination in the workplace asked Australians aged 50 years and older who did not participate in the workforce in the previous two years, but would have liked to, to provide their reasons for not working. The most common reason reported related to health (44%).
The Report of the Willing to Work Inquiry, in keeping with its terms of reference, made 56 recommendations aimed at reducing the prevalence of age and disability discrimination in employment and overcoming barriers to work currently experienced by older Australians and Australians with disability. The full report is available at http://www.humanrights.gov.au/news/stories/willing-work-national-report-released
The Report includes five recommendations specifically related to healthy ageing. These are listed below numbered as they appear in the Willing to Work Report. Taken together the aim of these recommendations is to reduce the prevalence of chronic health conditions and facilitate better support for people with chronic health conditions so that they can remain in the workforce for longer.
Recommendation 13: That the Australian Government develop and implement a national healthy ageing strategy to promote evidence-based preventative health practice particularly in the employment context, and improve access to workplace adjustments. This strategy is to be supported and overseen by an expert advisory panel. As part of this strategy the government will actively engage industry groups, peak bodies and trade unions.
Recommendation 14: That the Australian Government develop a national public education campaign that reinforces the importance of healthy ageing, and in particular, emphasises the relationship between health and work.
Recommendation 15: That the Australian Government investigate the provision of tax or other financial incentives to encourage business and employers to adopt health and wellbeing initiatives e.g. extend the fringe benefits tax exemption to off-site fitness services, and broaden the Medicare benefits scheme to exercise programs for people with chronic conditions.
Recommendation 16: That the Australian Government establish and fund a healthy and productive workers initiative, to be administered jointly by government departments including the Department of Health and Department of Employment to actively promote evidence-based workplace health programs, disseminate information and showcase good practice.
Recommendation 17: That to support continuing workforce participation and to improve access to workplace adjustments for people with chronic health conditions, the Australian Government:
- expand the Employment Assistance Fund to include training for managers and co-workers about employees with chronic health conditions
- develop information and resources provided by JobAccess that specifically address workplace adjustments for employees with chronic health conditions
- review the current EAF guidelines to ensure they do not exclude people with chronic health conditions from accessing workplace adjustments.
The first two sections of this paper provide an overview of the impact of health on workforce participation and highlight the case for wellbeing from individual, business and government perspectives. The final section of this paper presents potential ways to facilitate longer and healthier working lives.