Organizations across America are experiencing a unique workforce situation —the "rise of the wise", aka aging workers, alongside an influx of younger workers while at the same time facing the fact that the overall health and fitness level of workers of all ages is one of the lowest, if not the lowest, ever. Providing the appropriate work environment and work task design to keep the both age groups safe and healthy can be a challenge in and of itself. Add to that the obesity crisis with its side effects of diabetes, cardiovascular disease and musculoskeletal disorders the situation can almost seem overwhelming.

Organizations have implemented wellness programs as a way to improve the health of their workforce and thereby reduce the costs that are inherent to "unwell" workers—medical costs, lower productivity, higher rate of absenteeism, etc. These wellness programs typically rely on some sort of financial incentive to engage their employees in the program. Unfortunately, despite using incentives, participation rates are far from 100%. This begs the question: Is there another way to improve employee wellness that doesn't rely on bribes (incentives)? The answer just may be found by using the same principles, strategies and tactics that are used to error and injury proof work tasks, i.e. the use of human factors and ergonomics (HF/E) to design wellness into the work and the work environment.

Characteristics of Today's Workforce

There are four key characteristics of today's workforce that greatly impacts employee health, wellness and safety.


When you look at today's workforce, what do you see? What do you see at your company? What is the mix of younger, middle and older workers? According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the largest group of workers are between the ages of 25–54, the next largest group are those over age 54 and the smallest group is those under age 24. The fastest growing age group over the past 30 years is those over age 55. Here are some facts that show the change in the age of the workforce, specifically the increase in the number of older workers. This is what I refer to as the "The Rise of the Wise".

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