International Day for Older Persons (1 October) provides an opportunity to reflect on how to support and encourage older people in the workplace
As an Ambassador for Age Irrelevance, the importance of supporting and encouraging older people in the workplace is a topic close to my heart.
In order to become truly inclusive, workplaces must become age irrelevant, and we advise that age should be a plank of your equality, diversity and inclusion (EDI) strategy.
Working practices are set to change and the way in which people have formerly viewed their career trajectory will have to be revised as many will choose to work well into their 60s (indeed, may have to through economic necessity).
Retirement is looking like it is far more likely to be a gradual process, as people ease themselves out of the world of work rather than suddenly exiting it.
Over the past three to four years there has been a massive reduction of older workers in the workforce. This has been one of the main drivers of the reduction of workers in the UK workplace
Over the past three to four years there has been a massive reduction of older workers in the workforce. This has been one of the main drivers of the reduction of workers in the UK workplace. It makes commercial sense for employers to try and retain or recruit some of these staff.
Continuing to work into your 50s and 60s should be viewed as a positive option, not only from the point of view of boosting savings and the quality of eventual retirement, but also for personal satisfaction.
Older staff should be properly integrated as part of an intergenerational workforce so that they can feel that their experience is valued and being used to aid business continuity.
Key issues to consider
If employers want older workers to remain, or return, they should consider how best to support them. In a 2022 survey, the Office of National Statistics (ONS) found that those aged 50 to 54 were more likely to leave work due to stress (19%) or not feeling supported in their job (17%).
So, ideally an employer will offer proper support where it can – for example, via wellbeing programmes, menopause support and offering proactive steps to reduce stress, including programmes on financial wellbeing.
The ONS survey shows that among those aged 50 to 65 who have left their job since the start of the pandemic and would consider returning to work (58%), the most important factor when choosing a paid job was flexible working (32%). So, again, it is worth employers considering how to roll out more flexible working to older workers.
We know that many older workers are unable to work due to ill health, and the delays in the NHS have caused problems with the workforce. What can an employer do to maximise employees’ chances of enjoying a healthy and active life?
With the introduction of thinking around a 100-year life, it is also sensible to consider how best to improve skills and training in this age group.
We shouldn’t assume that older workers don’t want to improve their skills and training generally. We suggest that employers consider targeted support on technical issues, especially with the move to more digital workforces and the use of artificial intelligence (AI).
Foster an intergenerational workforce
The government has not sent the message to older workers that they are valued or needed in the workforce. But it seems to make commercial sense for employers to take steps to retain older workers.
Employers are perhaps best placed to foster an intergenerational workforce so that workers learn from each other.
How should employers tackle this? We suggest a positive message is given to older workers of a commitment to them. One option is to sign up to Age-friendly Employer Pledge.
Other strategies include the following:
- Make age a plank of your EDI strategy, which also means keeping better data and thinking about how best to promote age irrelevance. It’s worth looking at how to recruit staff, ensuring job descriptions and other recruitment documents are ‘age blind’.
- Consider how best to help intergenerational connections in any inclusive culture. For example, what can younger workers learn from older colleagues through coaching and mentoring? Would you consider reverse mentoring, so younger workers can build connections with older workers – for example, helping on digital issues?
- And finally, consider using positive action. It’s helpful to know that the Equality Act 2010 contains positive action provisions that are entirely voluntary, but very useful. These provisions could be used to boost the representation of older employees in the workplace by either concentrating on recruitment of those over a certain age, where it is underrepresented in the workplace, or targeting training at older workers. When using positive action, it’s important to protect yourself from any challenge – for example, by having a good business case for this route and ensuring the data in the workforce supports it.
Emma Burrows is head of employment and pensions at Trowers & Hamlins.