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Redesign the Workplace for Happier, Healthier Employees

As the workforce ages, the workplace changes

You probably know that home design is changing to make it easier for people to comfortably stay put as they age.  But you may not be aware that a similar evolution is happening in the American workplace — with new furniture, lighting and assembly lines to accommodate employees who are turning grayer.

See also: How to make yourself indispensable at work.

More people are working past age 60, and in the next 10 years the number of workers age 65 and over is expected to increase from 7.7 million to 12.9 million. Some will stay employed because they can’t afford to retire, others because they enjoy what they do or want to stay busy.

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Companies are converting their workplaces to accommodate changes in vision, hearing and strength. — Getty

Employers value older workers for their experience, institutional knowledge and attitude. A 2011 study from the Sloan Center on Aging & Work at Boston College found that workers 40 and older are the most engaged and the most committed to their employers, while workers 50 and older are the most satisfied.

So in order to keep older workers happy, healthy and on the job, some companies are rethinking their workplaces with the goal of accommodating changes in vision, hearing and physical strength. Although desk chairs that automatically give office staff members a massage when they tense up may not be a reality yet, other technologies exist to fit the job to the person — the goal of ergonomics.

In general, “the key is adjustability,” and for office workers that means chairs, desks and work stations, says Josh Kerst, vice president of Humantech, a workplace ergonomics consulting firm in Ann Arbor, Mich.

He notes that new chairs can rise or fall six inches; altogether, there are 10 things on them that you can adjust. But in his view, “the best adjustment might be not to use a chair for part of the time.” Standing up is good for you regardless of age.

Here are six ways that the setup of the American workplace is changing to accommodate older employees.

1. Lighting. This is the most important issue for older workers. To perform an inspection task, a 60-year-old needs about four times as much light — and better quality, full-spectrum light — than a 20-year-old.

Some employers improve lighting by switching to indirect overhead lights with up to 60 percent higher intensity. Indirect ambient light, combined with “task lighting” — light shining directly on the work at hand — and, ideally, a window, results in less glare, making it easier to work. Employers are also moving to matte surfaces to further reduce glare.

The best solutions allow employees to adjust the lights to meet their personal needs.

Next: Does your company use noise cancelling devices? »

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