Advancing Worker Well-being Across the Working Life: NIOSH’s New Center for Productive Aging & Work

Posted on by James Grosch, PhD; Juliann Scholl, PhD; and Bermang Ortiz, BA
Photo ©Thinkstock

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, by 2020, American workers 55 years or older will increase by almost 10 million, or at a rate of 33.5%. In addition, by 2020, most workplaces will have five generations working side by side. An aging workforce means having to think about how workers and organizations address the needs and challenges of older workers, as well as take advantage of the opportunities that aging and an age-diverse workforce can bring to the work environment. Recognizing the importance of aging in the context of work, NIOSH recently established the National Center for Productive Aging & Work (NCPAW), hosted by the Office of Total Worker Health®. The mission of the center is to: 1) promote age-related research; 2) develop and promote translational products, best practices, and interventions to facilitate an aging-friendly workplace; and 3) build and foster relationships with extramural researchers and partners.

An important part of the center’s mission is the concept of productive aging, which involves providing a safe and healthy work environment for workers of all ages, and creating conditions that allow workers to function optimally regardless of their age. The center frames aging in the workforce in light of its positive aspects, and the factors that are responsible for enhancing workers’ abilities to function effectively and thrive in the workplace. The center’s model of productive aging includes the following components:

  • A lifespan perspective that considers the patterns of change and transition that occur across the working life. This perspective extends the concept of productive aging to workers of all ages and views the aging process as dynamic, adaptive, and influenced by the environment.
  • A comprehensive and integrated framework of complimentary strategies that are a part of a coordinated intervention program. These strategies draw from a growing knowledge base of factors that have particular significance for an aging workforce where people are working longer (e.g., ergonomics, injury prevention, chronic disease management, healthy lifestyles, workplace flexibility, etc.).
  • Outcomes that recognize the priorities of both workers and organizations. Productive aging assumes that worker-centered outcomes (e.g., job satisfaction, well-being) and organizational-centered outcomes (e.g., improved performance, reduced healthcare costs) are both important to consider and can potentially influence each other.
  • A supportive culture for multi-generational issues that arise when up to four generations are working side-by-side. Learning to manage these issues and build upon the unique strengths of each generation creates an inclusive workplace culture that also contributes to productive aging.

The creation of the center will augment and lend greater visibility to the already-rich body of ongoing work in NIOSH related to productive aging, including the following projects:

Safe-Skilled-Ready Workforce Initiative

Do your employees arrive at work ready to do their jobs and armed with the skills they need to do the job successfully and safely? NIOSH research shows that a “ready worker” is a skilled, safe and healthy worker. The competencies that allow workers to contribute to and benefit from a safe, healthy, and productive workplace are therefore key to any work-readiness effort and to every job.

The mission of the NIOSH Safe-Skilled-Ready Workforce Initiative (SSRWI) is to ensure that all workers have the foundational skills, knowledge, and abilities they need to stay safe and healthy on the job and to contribute to a safe, healthy, and productive workplace. SSRWI recognizes that employers are responsible for providing a safe and healthy workplace, but also promotes the idea that everyone should have foundational competencies in risk recognition and control. These help them to protect themselves and to make health preserving decisions on the job now, throughout their working lives, and beyond. In addition to offering the NIOSH Youth@Work—Talking Safety Curriculum, SSRWI works with businesses and labor, as well as the health industry to promote work-readiness, safety, and skills training initiatives.

Promising Practices for Healthy Aging in the Workplace

The Promising Practices for Healthy Aging in the Workplace project seeks to identify and better understand organizational-level practices for creating an age-friendly workplace. This project involves the collection and analysis of data from workers and employers and examines factors that predict the availability and use of these programs, as well as the programs’ impact on chronic health outcomes that affect many older workers, such as arthritis and hypertension. Future plans including sharing findings with researchers and stakeholders, as well as development of practical educational materials about “age-friendly” workplaces for use by both employees and employer associations.

For more information on productive aging and work, including the latest NIOSH research, tools, guidelines, data, and statistics, please visit the center’s new web home.

Can you think of ways that the new National Center for Productive Aging and Work can assist you as a worker, or you as a manager of aging workers? What are the most important issues relating to aging workers that need to be addressed and why? Can you think of any approaches to these problems or issues that might be successful?

James Grosch, PhD; Juliann Scholl, PhD; and Bermang Ortiz, BA

Dr. Grosch is co-director of the Center and a research psychologist in the NIOSH Division of Applied Research and Technology.

Dr. Scholl is co-director of the Center and a health communication fellow in the NIOSH Education and Information Division.

Bermang Ortiz is a public health advisor in the NIOSH Education and Information Division.

Posted on by James Grosch, PhD; Juliann Scholl, PhD; and Bermang Ortiz, BA

4 comments on “Advancing Worker Well-being Across the Working Life: NIOSH’s New Center for Productive Aging & Work”

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    Please get involved in and advocate to change the “at will” employment laws that allow employers to terminate an employee with no notice nor any reason. This inhumane act dehumanizes the individual and destroys families. Especially the over 60 population that have little time left to reinvent themselves.

    Patricia Konarski of Tucson, AZ:

    As a retired librarian, and one who continues to work in the literary field in Tucson, AZ, I can speak from first-hand experience how vital it is to appreciate and address the aging portion of our workforce population, and not for the purpose of encouraging their retirement, but for the purpose of encouraging their continued work, as their experience and wisdom is indispensable.

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Page last reviewed: June 25, 2021
Page last updated: June 25, 2021