We all know the challenges, There are already 9.4 million people in employment over the age of 50 in the UK, equivalent to over 30% of the workforce, there is now no fixed retirement age and people are having to work longer to top-up inadequate pensions. This populace is becoming a burden to business over paid, and under skilled, less productive and flexible as younger workers. Wrong. You might feel that older workers are holding your business back but, in fact they could be your biggest asset.
An Age UK study showed that older employees are as productive and also willing to work as flexibly as their younger counterparts and as for the myth that older workers are stifling younger talent, an IFS study found this was certainly not the case. In fact many younger people value having more experienced and wiser heads to confide in when going through particularly challenging times. Whilst good cross generational working can add an extra dynamic to the work place. Furthermore, a CIPD report on age diversity found that older workers actually provided 3 key benefits over younger workers, that of knowledge-sharing, improved problem-solving and enhanced customer service. Three areas that a crucial to helping your business succeed in a competitive marketplace. If that weren’t enough a separate CIPD report ‘Avoiding the demographic crunch noted ‘In future decades, a vast proportion of this group will leave work permanently, taking their acquired skills and experiences with them. Unfortunately, long-term demographic change means that there is unlikely to be a burgeoning supply of younger people in the UK who will enter the labour market to replace retiring workers, while levels of migration are likely to be lower than that experienced over the past decade, further limiting the available talent pool.’
There is therefore a compelling need as Baroness Altman highlighted in her report– a new vision for older workers – to retain, retain and recruit older workers. If you want to be an employer of choice where highly talented people of all ages choose to work for you, dedicate themselves to your organisations success and stay with you even when they have more lucrative offers from competitors, then how you treat older workers will be an important consideration. People are also living and working longer which is already starting to have a significant impact on companies, employees and the wider society. A recent book by Lynda Gratton and Andrew Scott called ‘The 100-Year Life: Living and working in an age of longevity’ states ‘If you now work into your 70s or 80s in a rapidly changing job market, then maintaining productivity is no longer about brushing up on knowledge – it is about setting time aside to make fundamental investments in re-learning and re-skilling’
The CIPD recommend 5 actions to help companies respond to these challenges;
- Inclusive recruitment: employers must ensure that they do not, intentionally or otherwise, exclude relevant talent of any age from their recruitment processes.
- Improve the capability of line managers: ultimately someone’s decision to leave the workforce can be the result of a failure on the part of managers to appropriately understand the needs of those they are responsible for. Are your line mangers trained to have conversations about later life with their over 50’s?
- Invest in training, development and performance management: all employees, regardless of age, need training to keep their skills up to date and enable them to progress and develop their career. Providing older employees with opportunities to retrain and develop their skills, both tangible and intangible, is a vital part of ensuring that they continue to feel motivated and challenged in their role.
- Support employee health and wellbeing: poor health is one of the biggest reasons for economic inactivity amongst those in their fifties. While good line management is clearly important in ensuring that any health problems are flagged up early on, employers should also offer access to many other forms of support, including occupational health advisers and counselling services where appropriate.
- Move towards more flexible working: providing flexibility for workers who are more likely to have ill health, caring responsibilities and other commitments on their time must form a key component of any strategy to improve staff retention.
Another final consideration when investing in people and being a company of choice is how your organisation supports the holistic wellbeing of older workers and impacts the wider community. For those living longer getting finances right is essential but money is far from the only consideration. Family, friendships, mental health and happiness are all crucial components. Many people get to a point in life were they want to give something back to society and the community in which they live. Yet many corporate volunteering schemes have amounted to little more than staff giving up an afternoon to decorate a school hall. However, if companies can release older workers, as part of a planned transition into later life, to truly use their skills and experience to support community projects they are genuinely passionate about then a truly last legacy can be developed.
There is also hope in the shape of a new national scheme launched recently by the Shaftesbury Partnership the social innovation centre behind the National Citizen Service. The Retirement Transition Initiative (RTI) is unlike any product currently on the market. It is not a pre-retirement course. Rather it is a series of events that help participants envisage the future they want and develop a practical plan of how to achieve it. The Retirement Transition Initiative (RTI) equips older workers with the information, networks, resilience, and opportunities they need in order to enter later life with confidence and continue purposeful activity. It aims to improve the health, wellbeing and economic outcomes of the individual, their employer and their community.
Jaguar Land Rover helped pioneer the RTI workshops and as David Britwistle HR Director for Performance Reward and Engagement discovered “RTI is a unique opportunity to address one of the key social concerns of our generation in an innovative and practical way, whilst having a real impact on the wellbeing of employees and the productivity of your workforce.”
If you are still struggling to come to terms with the changes in legislation and the impact of an ageing workforce, there is a way forward. Admittedly it will take some investment to train line managers and develop flexible working practices that properly support older workers but the returns will be worth it. From supporting knowledge transfer and developing younger workers, coming up with innovative solutions to complex problems, improving your customer service and contributing to strong communities; rather than being a costs to the business you will quickly discover that your older employees are your biggest asset.