National Employ Older Workers Week takes place the final week in September and recognizes the vital role of older workers [U.S. DOL 2019]. By 2020, workers aged 55 and over will likely make up about 25 percent of the U.S. workforce [BLS 2018]. Within the Wholesale and Retail Trade (WRT) Sector alone, in 2017 almost 4.5 million workers (more than 22 percent) are over age 55, up from 3.8 million workers in 2011 [BLS 2018].
There are many advantages to hiring older workers. In general, they have more experience and get along well with co-workers. Older workers are also more likely than younger workers to follow safety rules and regulations [NIOSH 2019].
In 2018, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported that older workers were more likely to be in nonstandard work arrangements [BLS 2018]. Nonstandard work arrangements tend to be unpredictable in terms of place, time, and quantity of hours scheduled to work. The worker may be managed by an agency outside of the brick and mortar workplace. Nonstandard work arrangements include independent contractors, on-call workers, and temporary help agency worker. WRT employers hire independent contractors and other nonstandard employees for a wide variety of roles and services, such as managers, management analysts, first-line retail supervisors, and sales agents. Nonstandard work arrangements in WRT are also found in human resources, building services, accounting, credit card collections, information technology, data processing, and transportation [Appelbaum et al. 2019].
The BLS reported that more than 33% of independent contractors were age 55 or older, compared with fewer than 25% of workers in traditional arrangements [BLS 2018]. Although many older workers might find nonstandard work arrangements more desirable than traditional ones, it is important to keep in mind that workers in nonstandard work arrangements are less likely to have employer-provided health insurance [BLS 2018]. Many workers also might not be eligible for workers’ compensation benefits or have the same legal protections from occupational hazards as workers in traditional arrangements [Berkowitz, Smith, 2016].
NIOSH researchers have studied the effect of work arrangements on worker health and well-being. Long hours and irregular schedules are features of many nonstandard work arrangements and they are associated with increased injuries [NIOSH 2018a]. Injuries for older workers can be more severe. For example, older workers are more affected by musculoskeletal injuries because their recovery time is longer [NIOSH 2018b]. Long work hours can also lead to overexertion, stress, and fatigue.
A recent study found that that 30% of independent contractors were at least 56 years old [Ray et al. 2017]. In this study, independent contractors scored the highest proportion of safe and healthy work conditions; however, they also reported working longer hours than any other work group and having irregular schedules.
Older workers may have more severe health effects when exposed to stress [Baidwan et al. 2019]. However, research has shown that contractors and on-call workers reported less job stress than workers in traditional work arrangements [Ray et al. 2017]. Perhaps, higher levels of job satisfaction, as reported by contractors in this study, reduces stress.
To meet the needs of aging workers in nonstandard work arrangements, companies might consider implementing practices that promote productive aging, such as ergonomically appropriate work environments, return-to-work policies, and matching tasks to abilities [Schulte et al. 2018]. Employers should also keep in mind that reducing stressors, such as long hours, can improve overall health and well-being for all workers as they age [Grosch et al. 2006].
Click here to visit the NIOSH Science Blog post and leave a comment about how your workplace handles nonstandard work arrangements. For more information visit the National Center for Productive Aging & Work (NCPAW) and read our other blogs on the aging workforce.
Appelbaum E, Kalleberg A, Rho HF . Nonstandard work arrangements and older Americans, 2005–2017. Washington D.C. Economic Policy Institute.
Baidwan NK, Gerberich SG, Kim H . A longitudinal study of work-related psychosocial factors and injuries: Implications for the aging United States workforce Am J Ind Med. 2019;62:212–221.
Berkowitz D, Smith R . On-demand workers should be covered by workers’ compensation. National Employment Law Project. The rights on demand series. http://nelp.org/content/uploads/Policy-Brief- On-Demand-Covered-Workers-Compensation.pdf. Accessed August 6, 2019.
BLS . Contingent and alternative employment arrangements, Economic News Release. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Labor, BLS. https://www.bls.gov/news.release/conemp.nr0.htm Visited August 05, 2019.
Grosch JW, Caruso CC, Rosa RR, Sauter SL . Long hours of work in the US: Associations with demographic and organizational characteristics, psychosocial working conditions, and health. AJIM 49 (11), 943–952.
NIOSH . Productive Aging and Work: Safety and Health Outcomes. Cincinnati, OH: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health. https://www.cdc.gov/niosh/topics/productiveaging/safetyandhealth.html
NIOSH [2018a]. Using Total Worker Health® Concepts to Reduce Fatigue Among Retail Workers. By Afanuh S. Cincinnati, OH: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, DHHS (NIOSH) Publication No. 2019-102. DOI: https://doi.org/10.26616/NIOSHPUB2019102
NIOSH [2018b]. Wholesale and retail trade. https://www.cdc. gov/niosh/about/strategicplan/musctrade.html
Ray TK, Kenisgsberg TA, Pana-Cryan R . Employment arrangement, job stress, and health-related quality of life. Safety Science 100:46-56.
Schulte PA, Grosch J, Scholl J, Tamers SL . Productive Aging and Work Framework for Considering Productive Aging and Work. J Occup Environ Med. 60(5):440-8.
US DOL . National Employ Older Workers Week. Washington D.C. United States Department of Labor. Employment and Training Administration. reported by employers. https://doleta.gov/Seniors/html_docs/NatEmplOldWkr.cfm. Date accessed August 1, 2019.