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A workshop on working: a first for the MRC

How can we support older workers?

How can we support older workers?

What will your working life be like in 30 years? Katie Finch, Programme Manager of the Lifelong Health and Wellbeing (LLHW) scheme, explains how a new model for building research partnerships could help find the answer.

The UK’s workforce is ageing. Recent Government changes to retirement age and state pensions mean that many more of us will be working later into our lives than we might have expected.

But can older people continue to cope with the physical and mental demands of their work? The truth is, we don’t really know; many of the challenges that working in older age will present for both employers and workers are poorly understood.

To tackle this uncharted territory, we needed a new way of working – multidisciplinary research conducted in the real world of employment.

But this meant bringing together disparate groups of people who wouldn’t normally interact: academic researchers and some of the biggest public and private sector employers such as BT, BP, the NHS and Transport for London. Not only did we need to build links between these groups but also help them to find areas of shared interest.

Together with the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) and the Department for Work and Pensions, we designed a three-day event to build research partnerships – the first of its kind for MRC, and the first time that employers, policymakers, researchers and funders had been brought together in such numbers around this issue.

Participants from across the health and social sciences worked with employers and government stakeholders to unpick what an ageing workforce means and to identify areas where research could help employers plan for the future. It was intense and hard work, but several members commented that it was a great opportunity to get away from their desks to focus on the topic, share expertise and experiences, and bring a new perspective to the challenges of later-life working.

Gradually over the three days themes began to emerge: how can employers motivate workers in the years leading up to their retirement? How can they be sure an employee still has the mental and physical abilities their job demands? Can skills training, career advice, fitness or weight-loss programmes help older workers to feel supported in the workplace and improve productivity?

From LLHW’s perspective, this event was just the beginning: we hope the collaborations formed between researchers and employers will begin to meet the challenges posed by extended working lives.

Since the workshop, the LLHW programme has committed £5.8m to support eight exciting new research collaborations exploring areas such as return to work in older life, how healthy working lives can be extended within the NHS, and how longer working lives impact the health of the population.

If research conducted under these collaborations can help us better understand the relationship between health, work and wellbeing in later life, the workplaces of the future will be safer, more stimulating and welcoming to older workers, and the idea of working past 65 might seem a little less daunting.

Katie Finch

Full details of funded collaborative awards are available on our website. You can also follow the Lifelong Health and Wellbeing programme on Twitter: @LLHWresearch 

 

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