COVID-19 may predominantly be a health crisis, but it has dealt a crushing blow to the economy and employment market.
Amid mounting job losses, dwindling financial security, and significant health risks, older workers were hit the hardest. Many senior workers were forced out of jobs due to redundancies. Others struggled with technological handicaps as the world shifted to digital and remote ways of working. Added to that, a whopping 93% of the deaths from COVID-19 were among those 55-years old and older due to their acute susceptibility to the virus.
The ripple effect
Many organizations took on cost-cutting programs to stay afloat during nation-wide lockdowns, and persons deemed non-essential – like older workforce nearing retirement or unable to pivot to WFH models – were perhaps the first to be let go of. In the USA, 5.7 million workers aged 55 years and older lost their jobs in the spring of 2020, which accounts for 15% of total employment in this group.
Senior workers without employer-sponsored health plans face financial risks when they lose their incomes, particularly those depending on Medicare coverage. Unemployment and fear also created aftershocks for minorities within this already-vulnerable group. The USA saw increasing rates of job losses among non-Caucasian older workers – 19% among Asian and 19% for the Hispanic and Latino group. Older women also faced severe impact, having to care for elderly parents, grandchildren, and other family members.
How can employers support their senior workers?
- Introducing food pantries and clinics. Companies can pivot from canteen-based models to meal-at-home deliveries for their vulnerable and older staff as well as frontline senior workers. Designated mobile or on-site clinics also provide safe, sanitized spaces for periodic testing and healthcare needs.
- Financial relief. Several measures are available such as paid sick leave or loans at nominal interest rates. Starbucks offered catastrophe pay up to 14 days for all its employees affected by COVID-19, including those aged 60+. In a similar vein, companies can support transport partners by screening their cabs/ vans, installing sanitization kits, and issuing wearables that track health metrics to protect senior workers who continue to run delivery and essential services.
- Expanded unemployment insurance and better health insurance. This includes changing insurance policies to provide extension on premiums or continued coverage for older workers that have been laid off. Companies could also move to ensure that pension payouts continue with as little disruption as possible so that retired or laid off senior workers are not left destitute.
- Re-skilling to cope with technology. Companies can organize workshops to help upskill and reskill senior workers so they can better understand new software and tools. Models to track remote productivity may also shift to accommodate a slower pace of work for seniors who work from home.
- Tap into institutional skills. Companies can provide more flexibility in terms of meeting KRA requirements by giving them roles that allow them to contribute their expertise. In one example, the NHS reactivated several of its veteran nurses and medical practitioners to help alleviate the strain of the pandemic on the healthcare system.
Civilization is often measured by how it treats its most vulnerable members. The time is right for corporates and companies to step up with micro measures that can aid the senior workforce during these difficult times.