Opinion

Challenging opportunity
for aging population

The world is aging rapidly. By 2040, the global population aged 65 and older is expected to reach 1.3 billion, more than double the size of 530 million in 2010 (Source: US Census Bureau International Database, March 2010).

An aging population will result in a severe shortage of labor and falling output, as well as spiraling health care costs, all of which will have profound and enduring economic, social and political consequences.

Extending people’s working lives is a key to dealing with these challenges. More than 8.5 percent of 240 million population in Indonesia are 60 years or older according to the Central Statistics Bureau (BPS).

In 2025 this number is expected to multiply by 414 percent, making Indonesia one of the fastest aging societies in Asia.

This will have an impact not only on the nation and the communities but also families who are the primary caregivers for the elderly.

However, economic and societal changes, such as a rapid urban migration, have brought changes in the care of elderly. As people continue to move to cities, driven by economic necessity, there will be increasingly fewer family members to provide care for the elderly.

This is exacerbated by the lack of financial and health support, such as pensions and insurance from the government, which means that the elderly have no choice but to rely on their relatives.

The current approach of providing special health care and building nursing home to managing an aging population is no longer enough.

A more practical approach is to maintain productivity by implementing a strategy that allows longevity of employees in the workforce so that older workers can continue to be a source of manpower, experience and skills to sustain economic growth and progress.

Currently, the mandatory retirement age of 55 in Indonesia has resulted in a situation where people who are still vigorous and able to contribute, end up idling at homes.

Companies can help extend longevity of the workforce by looking at more flexible working arrangements. This can include part-time employment and paying older workers a wage commensurate with their productivity rather than their seniority, so they can continue to stay in the workforce after they reach retirement age.

In addition to that, providing occupational retraining program and educational upgrading will also support older workers to manage and keep up with technological change in the workplace.

For some people, remaining in employment is an economic necessity but this isn’t the only reason for continuing to work. In the Philips Index Health & Well-Being Report 2010, a global attitudinal study on health and well-being, respondents are generally optimistic about their life-expectancy.

About 45 percent believe they will live to more than 80 years of age. Compared to their counterparts in Singapore, and similar to people in Malaysia, about half (49 percent) of Indonesians expect to live longer than their parents.

Women are more likely than men to feel this way, while those aged 18-24 and 25-34 are more likely to feel that way than other age groups.

Despite being a young country on average (the median age is 28), nearly four in 10 (37 percent) Indonesians feel they will live to be at least 81 years old.

Health and well-being used to be seen as an issue for individuals and governments. But increasingly, companies realize that they have to invest in their employees’ health — not for altruistic reasons but out of self-interest.

If employees are encouraged to take care of their health and change their behavior by eating healthily and exercising more from the time they begin working and throughout their careers, it will ensure that older workers are fitter and can remain longer in active employment.

Health promotion and wellness programs can keep employees working longer by reducing the risks of getting new chronic conditions or the worsening of existing ones.

Many companies are already implementing programs to encourage staff to exercise, make healthier choices and manage their work-life balance to maintain mental well-being.

All the research indicates that investing in employee health reduces medical insurance costs, cuts absenteeism, increases productivity and reduces staff turnover.

Good health is good for business. Ultimately, a healthier, more productive workforce can help drive greater profitability for employers as well as a healthier economy.

Technology also has a vital role in managing the health of an aging workforce. People increasingly want access to health care anywhere, at any time and tailored to their specific needs.

In the Philips Index, access to healthcare facilities is important for 85 percent of the respondents in Indonesia. With an aging population and an explosion in chronic diseases, there will not be enough hospitals to cope with the number of patients who need routine monitoring and screening.

With technology and devices enabling independent living through remote monitoring and better self management of chronic diseases, hospital beds can be freed up for emergencies and some of the pressure on already overburdened health care systems can be alleviated.

Workplace design, an often overlooked area by employers and policy makers, is also important to ensure the needs of older employees are met. With the changing demographics of the workforce, it is timely to start looking into basic things like good ergonomics and better lighting.

Growing older is linked to a large number of changes in the eyes. Under normal indoor lighting conditions, a 60-year-old typically needs 10 times more light to achieve the visual acuity of a 20-year-old. At the same time, the aging eye is more sensitive to light and an aging work force might perceive more problems with bright light sources such as small, very bright LEDs, so that must be taken into account.

The aging work force poses tremendous challenges for the nation and economies. But it is also an opportunity. By focusing on the health of its employees, companies can ensure that their people — one of their major assets — are able to perform better, for longer.

The writer is the president director of PT Philips Indonesia, a global company that focuses on health and wellbeing. The opinions expressed are his own.

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