An international conference on occupational safety and health was held earlier this month at the University of Trento, Italy. The University of Trento is a leading research institution in Italy in the areas of psychology and neuroscience, and I’m pleased to be a member of the doctoral training committee there. Sabine Sonnentag (U. of Mannheim, Germany) and I were asked to give keynote talks at the conference. She spoke about recovery from work, and I focused on one of my passions, ways to address age issues in the workplace.
Because of the economic crisis, Italian workers are facing a number of serious challenges, including job insecurity, delayed retirements even for the most physically demanding jobs, and unemployment rates as high as 50% for people under 25.
A consistent theme at this conference was the challenge facing Italy and other countries where people are suddenly being asked to work much longer than they had planned without adequate support or preparation. One salient group: People (mostly women) working into their sixties, caring for preschool kids on their own. A typical situation might involve one of these older teachers caring for a group of as many as 25 young kids – singlehandedly. This includes not only the psychological strain of such work, but physical as well, including having to lift and carry their charges throughout the day.
The bureaucratic system does little to accommodate the needs of these older workers. The idea of redesigning a job or moving an older worker into other, less physically demanding government jobs – which might also free up much needed work for younger people – is nearly impossible because of the rules. And because of the economic crisis, there is really no money to provide supports such as aides or other assistance for these teachers. Even requesting to go down to half-time work seems to be difficult. In the end, these workers feel spent, with insufficient time at the end of the day to recover from their grueling jobs.
We already know how important it is for employers to provide flexibility to workers – be it for taking care of non-work needs or helping a dedicated, long-term worker adapt to a difficult situation. And most employers do so if they can. But the other side – extreme inflexibility among some employers – is a deadly situation that we need to pay attention to. This is reality for many people, and it has profound effects on these workers’ emotional and physical health.
Submitted by Donald Truxillo, Ph.D., Oregon Healthy Workforce Center, Portland State University Occupational Health Psychology Program.
OccHealthSci Topic: Aging Workforce