Mental illness, sprains and strains keep seniors out of work

Mental illness and musculoskeletal injuries such as sprains and strains are the key reasons why older people drop out of the workforce, according to new findings.

The National Seniors Australia report studied 2000 people over 50 to investigate the role of ill health in inhibiting workforce participation.

The report found strong evidence that Australia’s mature age workforce participation rate could be vastly improved if employers offered more flexible work options to help employees stay engaged in the workforce.

Forty-six per cent of people with an illness, injury or disability said ill health had prevented them from working, while 37 per cent could not work as many hours as they wanted and 13 per cent said their ill health had prevented them from looking for work.

People with a musculoskeletal injury (61 per cent) and mental illness (58 per cent) were most likely to report that their illness had prevented them from working or looking for work, while arthritis kept people away from work for the longest period of time.

National Seniors research director Dr Tim Adair said Australia’s labour force participation is being hindered by the poor health of many older Australians.

“While the mature age workforce participation rate has been increasing over the past 10 years, there are still many over 50s not who are not in paid work because of ill health, injury and disability,’’ Adair said.

“Previous research shows a lack of flexibility in the workplace will prevent 450,000 potential employees from working by 2031.

“Almost half the number of people with poor health returned to work after an absence of at least one month but 21 per cent had yet to return to work or had retired.”

Barriers to returning to work included a lack of support to change working conditions, lack of understanding by management, age discrimination and a lack of flexible work options.

“Without more flexible work options and support from management and co-workers, more people will continue to remain disengaged from the workforce,” he said.

Adair said employers can help employees return to work by helping to manage pre-existing health problems and implementing health programs for employees such as offering free health assessments and gym memberships.

The findings were contained in the full report here.

*Funding for this report was provided by an unrestricted grant from Novartis Pharmaceuticals Australia.

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