Designing Age-Friendly Workplaces: An Occupational Health Perspective

  • James W. GroschEmail author
  • Juliann C. Scholl


The graying of the workforce has fostered a burgeoning interest in the design of age-friendly workplaces. This chapter provides an occupational health perspective on workplace design with the ultimate goal of maximizing worker safety, health, and well-being. To set the stage for this perspective, the burden of occupational injuries and illnesses is discussed, as well as changes in occupational health outcomes (both positive and negative) that will likely occur as the workforce grows older. Four guiding principles of an occupational health perspective on aging are also described. The concept of age-friendly environments is examined through the lens of well-established efforts in two domains outside of the workplace (aging in place, age-friendly communities/cities). Next, drawing on case studies and current research findings, strategies for designing age-friendly workplaces are presented. These strategies include modifications of the work environment, changes in human resource policy, expanding flexible work practices, encouraging lifelong learning, and adopting a comprehensive, multi-level approach. The chapter concludes with ten practical steps organizations should consider in designing and implementing age-friendly improvements.


Age-friendly workplaces Age-friendly communities Aging in place Occupational health Flexible work Human resource policies Workplace safety Worker productivity 


  1. AARP. (2000). Fixing to stay: A national survey of housing and home modification issues. Washington, DC: AARP. Retrieved from Scholar
  2. AARP. (2005). Livable communities: An evaluation guide. Washington, DC: AARP Public Policy Institute. Retrieved from Scholar
  3. AARP. (2011). Aging in place: A state survey of livability policies and practices. Washington, DC: AARP. Retrieved from Scholar
  4. AARP. (2018). The livability index 2018: Transforming communities for all ages. Washington, DC: AARP Public Policy Institute. Retrieved from Scholar
  5. AdvantAge Initiative. (2013). What is the AdvantAge initiative? New York: Center for Home Care Policy and Research VNSNY. Retrieved from Scholar
  6. Butler, R. N., & Gleason, H. P. (1985). Productive aging: Enhancing vitality in later life. New York: Springer.Google Scholar
  7. Byrnes, M., Lichtenberg, P. A., & Lysack, C. (2006). Environmental press, aging in place, and residential satisfaction of urban older adults. Journal of Applied Sociology, os-23(2), 50–77. Scholar
  8. Carstensen, L. L., Issacowitz, D. M., & Charles, S. T. (1999). Taking time seriously: A theory of socioemotional selectivity. American Psychologist, 54(3), 165–181. Scholar
  9. Crawford, J. O., Graveling, R. A., Cowie, H., Dixon, K., & MacCalman, L. (2009). The health, safety and health promotion needs of older workers: An evidence-based review and guidance. Edinburgh: Institute of Occupational Medicine.Google Scholar
  10. Creagan, E. T. (2013). Mayo Clinic on healthy aging—How to find happiness and vitality for a lifetime. Rochester, MN: Mayo Clinic.Google Scholar
  11. Dembe, A. E. (2001). The social consequences of occupational injuries and illnesses. American Journal of Industrial Medicine, 40(4), 403–417. Scholar
  12. European Agency for Safety and Health at Work. (2017). Healthy workplaces for all ages: Healthy workplaces good practice awards 2016-2017. Luxembourg: Publications Office of the European Union. Retrieved from Scholar
  13. Feldt, T., Hyvönen, K., Mäkikangas, A., Kinnunen, U., & Kokko, K. (2009). Development trajectories of Finnish manager’s work ability over a 10-year period. Scandinavian Journal of Work, Environment & Health, 35(1), 37–47. Scholar
  14. Finkelstein, R., Roher, S., & Owusu, S. (2013). Age smart employer NYC: Compendium of strategies and practices. New York: New York Academy of Medicine and Columbia Aging Center. Retrieved from Scholar
  15. Fitzgerald, K. G., & Caro, F. G. (2014). An overview of age-friendly cities and communities around the world. Journal of Aging & Social Policy, 26(1–2), 1–18. Scholar
  16. Franche, R.-L., Cullen, K., Clarke, J., Irvin, E., Sinclair, S., & Frank, J. (2005). Workplace-based return-to-work interventions: A systematic review of the quantitative literature. Journal of Occupational Rehabilitation, 15(4), 607–631. Scholar
  17. Fries, J. F. (1980). Aging, natural death, and the compression of morbidity. New England Journal of Medicine, 303(3), 130–135. Scholar
  18. Gignac, M. A. M., Kristman, V., Smith, P. M., Beaton, D. E., Badley, E. M., Ibrahim, S., et al. (2018). Are there differences in workplace accommodation needs, use and unmet needs among older workers with arthritis, diabetes and no chronic conditions? Examining the role of health and work context. Work, Aging and Retirement, 4(4), 381–398.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Gitlin, L. N. (2003). Conducting research on home environments: Lessons learned and new directions. The Gerontologist, 43(5), 628–637. Scholar
  20. Glass, T., & Balfour, J. (2003). Neighborhoods, aging, and functional limitations. In I. Kawachi & L. F. Berkman (Eds.), Neighborhoods and health (pp. 303–334). New York: Oxford University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Goh, J., Pfeffer, J., & Zenios, S. A. (2016). The relationship between workplace stressors and mortality and health costs in the United States. Management Science, 62(2), 608–628. Scholar
  22. Goldgruber, J., & Ahrens, D. (2010). Effectiveness of workplace health promotion and primary prevention interventions: A review. Journal of Public Health, 18(1), 75–88. Scholar
  23. Greenfield, E. A., Oberlink, M., Scharlach, A. E., Neal, M. B., & Stafford, P. B. (2015). Age-friendly community initiatives: Conceptual issues and key questions. The Gerontologist, 55(2), 191–198. Scholar
  24. Grosch, J. W., Hecker, S., Scott, K., & Scholl, J. C. (in press). Productive aging and work. In H. L. Hudson, J. S. Nigam, S. L. Sauter, L. C. Chosewood, S. L. Schill, & J. Howard (Eds.), Total Worker Health: Integrated approaches to safety, health, and well-being. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.Google Scholar
  25. Grosch, J. W., & Murphy, L. R. (2008). Management commitment to safety: Associations with safety, quality of work life, and occupation. Presentation at the Society for Industrial and Organizational Psychology Conference, San Francisco, CA.Google Scholar
  26. Grosch, J. W., & Pransky, G. S. (2009). Safety and health issues for an aging workforce. In S. J. Czaja & J. Sharit (Eds.), Aging and work: Issues and implications in a changing landscape (pp. 334–358). Baltimore, MD: The Johns Hopkins University Press.Google Scholar
  27. Hackett, R. D. (1990). Age, tenure, and employee absenteeism. Human Relations, 43(7), 601–619. Scholar
  28. Harter, J. K., Schmidt, F. L., & Keyes, C. L. (2002). Well-being in the workplace and its relationship to business outcomes: A review of the Gallup studies. In C. L. Keyes & J. Haidt (Eds.), Flourishing: The positive person and the good life (pp. 205–224). Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.Google Scholar
  29. Hofer, S. M., & Sliwinski, M. J. (2001). Understanding ageing: An evaluation of research designs for assessing the interdependence of ageing-related changes. Gerontology, 47(6), 341–352. Scholar
  30. Huang, Y. H., Chen, P. Y., & Grosch, J. W. (2010). Safety climate: New developments in conceptualization, theory, and research. Accident Analysis and Prevention, 42(5), 1421–1422. Scholar
  31. Iecovich, E. (2014). Aging in place: From theory to practice. Anthropological Notebooks, 20(1), 21–33.Google Scholar
  32. Ilmarinen, J. (1999). Ageing workers in the European Union: Status and promotion of work ability, employability and employment. Helsinki: Finnish Institute of Occupational Health, Ministry of Social Affairs and Health.Google Scholar
  33. Inui, T. S. (2003). The need for an integrated biopsychosocial approach to research on successful aging. Annals of Internal Medicine, 139(5 Part 2), 391–394. Scholar
  34. Kanfer, R., & Ackerman, P. L. (2004). Aging, adult development, and work motivation. Academy of Management Review, 29(3), 440–458. Scholar
  35. Kent, K., Goetzel, R. Z., Roemer, E. C., Prasad, A., & Freundlich, N. (2016). Promoting healthy workplaces by building cultures of health and applying strategic communications. Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, 58(2), 114–122. Scholar
  36. Kooij, D. T. A. M., De Lange, A. H., Jansen, P. G. W., Kanfer, R., & Dikkers, J. S. E. (2011). Age and work-related motives: Results of a meta-analysis. Journal of Organizational Behavior, 32(2), 197–225. Scholar
  37. Lawton, M. P. (1986). Environment and aging. Albany, NY: Center for the Study of Aging.Google Scholar
  38. Lawton, M. P., & Nahemow, L. (1973). Ecology and the aging process. In C. Eisdorfer & M. P. Lawton (Eds.), The psychology of adult development and aging (pp. 619–674). Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Leigh, J. P. (2011). Economic burden of occupational injury and illness in the United States. The Milbank Quarterly, 89(4), 728–772. Scholar
  40. Levy, B. R. (2003). Mind matters: Cognitive and physical effects of aging self-stereotypes. The Journal of Gerontology, Series B: Psychological Sciences and Social Sciences, 58(4), P203–P211. Scholar
  41. Levy, B. (2009). Stereotype embodiment: A psychosocial approach to aging. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 18(6), 332–336. Scholar
  42. Liberty Mutual Insurance. (2018). Liberty Mutual workplace safety index. Boston: Liberty Mutual Risk Control Services. Retrieved from Scholar
  43. Loch, C. H., Sting, F. J., Bauer, N., & Mauermann, H. (2010). How BMW is defusing the demographic time bomb. Harvard Business Review, 88(3), 99–102. Retrieved from Scholar
  44. Lui, C. W., Everingham, J., Warburton, J., Cuthill, M., & Bartlett, H. (2009). What makes a community age-friendly: A review of international literature. Australasian Journal on Ageing, 28(3), 116–121. Scholar
  45. Maslow, A. H. (1962). Toward a psychology of being. Princeton, NJ: D. Van Nostrand Company.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. McLaren, C. F., Reville, R. T., & Seabury, S. A. (2010). How effective are employer return to work programs? [White paper]. Santa Monica, CA: RAND Center for Health and Safety in the Workplace. Retrieved from Scholar
  47. Mitchell, O. S. (1988, July). The relation of age to workplace injuries. Monthly Labor Review, 111(7), 8–13. Retrieved from
  48. Morley, J. E. (2012). Aging in place. Journal of the American Medical Directors Association, 13(6), 489–492. Scholar
  49. Mynatt, E. D., Melenhorst, A-S., Fisk, A. D., & Rogers, W. A. (2004, April–June). Aware technologies for aging in place: Understanding user needs and attitudes. IEEE Pervasive Computing, 3(2), 36–41. Scholar
  50. Naegele, G., & Walker, A. (2006). A guide to good practice in age management. Dublin: European Foundation for the Improvement of Living and Working Conditions. Retrieved from Scholar
  51. National Association of Area Agencies on Aging (N4A) and Partners for Livable Communities. (2007). A blueprint for action: Developing a livable community for all ages. Washington, DC: N4A. Retrieved from Scholar
  52. National Disability Authority. (2012). What is universal design? Dublin: Centre for Excellence in Universal Design. Retrieved from Scholar
  53. National Research Council and The Institute of Medicine. (2004). In D. H. Wegman & J. P. McGee (Eds.), Health and safety needs of older workers. Committee on the Health and Safety Needs of Older Workers. Division of Behavioral and Social Sciences and Education. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press.Google Scholar
  54. Ng, T. W. H., & Feldman, D. C. (2008). The relationship of age to ten dimensions of job performance. Journal of Applied Psychology, 93(2), 392–423. Scholar
  55. NIOSH. (2016). Fundamentals of Total Worker Health approaches: Essential elements for advancing worker safety, health, and well-being. By M. P. Lee, H. Hudson, R. Richards, C. C. Chang, L. C. Chosewood, A. L. Schill, on behalf of the NIOSH Office for Total Worker Health. 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. 2017-112.Google Scholar
  56. O’Hehir, J. (2014). Age-friendly cities and communities: A literature review. Adelaide: Centre for Work + Life, University of South Australia.Google Scholar
  57. Oakman, J., Neupane, S., Priper, K. I., Kinsman, N., & Nygård, C.-H. (2018). Workplace interventions to improve work ability: A systematic review and meta-analysis of their effectiveness. Scandinavian Journal of Work, Environment & Health, 44(2), 134–146. Scholar
  58. Pitt-Catsouphes, M., Matz-Costa, C., & Besen, E. (2009). Workplace flexibility: Findings from the age & generations study. Issue Brief 19. Boston: The Sloan Center on Aging & Work at Boston College.Google Scholar
  59. Plouffle, L., & Kalache, A. (2010). Towards global age-friendly cities: Determining urban features that promote active aging. Journal of Urban Health: Bulletin of the New York Academy of Medicine, 87(5), 733–739. Scholar
  60. Pransky, G. S., Benjamin, K. L., Savageau, J. A., Currivan, D., & Fletcher, K. (2005). Outcomes in work-related injuries: A comparison of older and younger workers. American Journal of Industrial Medicine, 47(2), 104–112. Scholar
  61. Rowe, J. W., & Kahn, R. L. (1997). Successful aging. The Gerontologist, 37(4), 433–440. Scholar
  62. Rudolph, C. W., & Zacher, H. (2015). Intergenerational perceptions and conflicts in multi-age and multigenerational work environments. In L. Finkelstein, D. M. Truxillo, F. Fraccaroli, & R. Kanfer (Eds.), Facing the challenges of a multi-age workforce: A use-inspired approach (pp. 253–282). New York: Routledge.Google Scholar
  63. Santrock, J. W. (2015). Life-span development (15th ed.). New York: McGraw-Hill.Google Scholar
  64. Sauter, S. L., & Murphy, L. R. (Eds.). (1995). Organizational risk factors for job stress. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.Google Scholar
  65. Scharlach, A. (2012). Creating aging-friendly communities in the United States. Ageing International, 37(1), 25–38. Scholar
  66. Schulte, P. A., Grosch, J. W., Scholl, J. C., & Tamers, S. L. (2018). Framework for considering productive aging at work. Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, 60(5), 440–448. Scholar
  67. Schulte, P. A., Guerin, R. J., Schill, A. L., Bhattacharya, A., Cunningham, T. R., Pandalai, S. P., et al. (2015). Considerations for incorporating “well-being” in public policy for workers and workplaces. American Journal of Public Health, 105, e31–e44. Scholar
  68. Schulte, P. A., Pana-Cryan, R., Schnorr, T., Schill, A. L., Guerin, R., Felknor, S., et al. (2017). An approach to assess the burden of work-related injury, disease, and distress. American Journal of Public Health, 107(7), 1051–1057. Scholar
  69. SHARP. (2007). Injured at work: What workers’ compensation data reveal about work-related musculoskeletal disorders (WMSDs). Technical Report Number 40-10b-2007. Olympia, WA: SHARP Program, Washington State Department of Labor and Industries.Google Scholar
  70. SHRM. (2015). Preparing for an aging workforce: A gap analysis report comparing the SHRM Foundation’s The Aging Workforce effective practice guidelines report with SHRM’s Aging Workforce survey findings. Alexandria, VA: Society for Human Resource Management.Google Scholar
  71. SHRM. (2016). Preparing for an aging workforce: Strategies, templates and tools for HR professionals. Alexandria, VA: Society for Human Resource Management.Google Scholar
  72. Silverstein, M. (2008). Meeting the challenges of an aging workforce. American Journal of Industrial Medicine, 51(4), 269–280. Scholar
  73. Sorensen, G., Landsbergis, P., Hammer, L., Amick, B. C. I. I. I., Linnan, L., Yancey, A., et al. (2011). Preventing chronic disease in the workplace: A workshop report and recommendations. American Journal of Public Health, 101(S1), s196–s207. Scholar
  74. Stein, R., Blanchard-Fields, F., & Hertzog, C. (2002). The effects of age-stereotype priming on the memory performance of older adults. Experimental Aging Research, 28(2), 169–181. Scholar
  75. Takala, J., Hämäläinen, P., Saarela, K. L., Yun, L. Y., Manickam, K., Jin, T. W., et al. (2014). Global estimates of the burden of injury and illness at work in 2012. Journal of Occupational and Environmental Hygiene, 11(5), 326–337. Scholar
  76. Taylor, P. (2006). Employment initiatives for an ageing workforce in the EU15. Dublin: European Foundation for the Improvement of Living and Working Conditions. Retrieved from Scholar
  77. Truxillo, D. M., Cadiz, D. M., & Hammer, L. B. (2015). Supporting the aging workforce: A review and recommendations for workplace intervention research. Annual Review of Organizational Psychology and Organizational Behavior, 2(1), 351–381. Scholar
  78. Van Loo, J., De Grip, A., & De Steur, M. (2001). Skills obsolescence: Causes and cures. International Journal of Manpower, 22(1/2), 121–138. Scholar
  79. Wahl, H. W., Iwarsson, S., & Oswald, F. (2012). Aging well and the environment: Toward an integrative model and research agenda for the future. The Gerontologist, 52(3), 306–316. Scholar
  80. Walker, A. (1997). Combating age barriers in employment. Dublin: European Foundation for the Improvement of Living and Working Conditions.Google Scholar
  81. Warr, P. (1994). Age and employment. In H. C. Triandis, M. D. Dunnette, & L. M. Hough (Eds.), Handbook of industrial and organizational psychology (Vol. 4, pp. 485–550). Palo Alto, CA: Consulting Psychologists Press.Google Scholar
  82. WHO. (2002). Active ageing: A policy framework. Geneva: World Health Organization. Retrieved from Scholar
  83. WHO. (2007). Global age-friendly cities: A guide. Geneva: World Health Organization. Retrieved from Scholar
  84. WHO. (2015). Measuring the age-friendliness of cities: A guide to using core indicators. Geneva: World Health Organization. Retrieved from;sequence=1Google Scholar
  85. Wilson, M. G., Dejoy, D. M., Vandenbeg, R. J., Richardson, H. A., & McGrath, A. L. (2004). Work characteristics and employee health and well-being: Test of a model of healthy work organization. Journal of Occupational and Organizational Psychology, 77(4), 565–588. Scholar
  86. Yeomans, L. (2011). An update of the literature on age and employment. London: Health and Safety Executive. Retrieved from Scholar
  87. Zacher, H. (2015). Successful aging at work. Work, Aging and Retirement, 1(1), 4–25. Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2020

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, Centers for Disease Control and PreventionCincinnatiUSA

Personalised recommendations