Ergonomics done right.®
October 5th, 2008

Optimizing an Aging Workforce: Q&A

Recently, we hosted a webinar on The Future of Manufacturing: Optimizing an Aging Workforce (Click HERE to download a recording). The discussion was led by our CEO, Franz Schneider.

Due to limitations on time, we weren’t able to get to all of the questions. Instead of answering them privately, we thought it would be a good idea to share these thoughts with all of you.

Q:My question is in regards to shift work and what is best for the aging worker. Please advise regarding shift rotation (backward or forward), the best hours for work, and the length of a work shift?

A: As people age (past 45), they often show a reduced tolerance to shift and night work. In general, women suffer more than men from symptoms of shift work intolerance. Although long-term prospective studies on aging are few, shift workers over 40-45 years of age reported sleeping worse after night shifts, but not morning shifts. Due to the dearth of data, one then can only extrapolate from the physiological trends of the younger workforce and make suppositions as to the older workforce.

  1. Phase forward shift rotation is preferred for all age groups and is therefore preferable for the older worker.
  2. Periods of work over 8 hours are to be avoided for all workgroups.
  3. Rapid rota shift work is sometimes advocated for younger workers so that they might have more family contact. Given that many older workers either have children that take care of themselves (to a degree) or are no longer at home, the physiological benefit of extended shift durations should be favored.

The preferred shift schedule that optimizes physiological and social factors for the aging worker is an extended rota (4 to 8 weeks in duration), phase forward, with work periods no longer than 8 hours.

Have a quesion on the aging workforce? Email me at or comment below.