The Centre for Ageing Better recently partnered with Business in the Community to call for employers to recognise the benefits that older workers can bring to their workplaces. In this latest interview, Patrick Thomson, Senior Programme manager at the Centre for Ageing Better discusses this new partnership, the vital importance for employers to retain and recruit older workers and his advice for employers to create an age friendly workplace.
Tell us about your recent partnership with Business in the Community
Our three year partnership with Business in the Community aims to identify and test what works to recruit, retrain and retain older workers. We are calling on employers to recognise the benefits that older workers can bring to their organisations and to create age friendly workplaces.
We will strengthen the business case so that more employers understand the value of age friendly workplaces. We will learn from what leading employers who see the benefits of older workers are doing and share the most effective policies and practices as widely as possible.
Members of BITC’s Age at Work campaign, which is made up of organisations who have committed to achieving change on age at work, will actively promote age friendly practices both within their organisations and more widely. They will test ideas generated through the partnership so their experience can be shared with employers across the country.
You mention that between 2005 and 2015 the number of people working over the age of 50 in the UK has increased by 2.5 million. The number of people working over the age of 65 has also more than doubled. What do you think are some of the key factors that have led to this increasingly ageing workforce?
We are all living longer, and like our society as a whole, our workforce is ageing. The number of people aged over 50 in employment is rising and now makes up over a third of the total workforce. The proportion of 50-64 year olds in employment has risen from 65% ten years ago to nearly 70% today, in part reflecting changes to the state pension and abolition of the default retirement age.
Our Later life in 2015 study showed that some people feel the need to work longer, or return to work to protect their financial security in later life. This is dependent on being physically capable of work and being able to find employment to suit them in terms of hours, conditions and skills required.
An ageing workforce shouldn’t be seen as a problem to be fixed. With the right approaches, based on evidence, it can be an opportunity.
Why is it so important to be able to continue to recruit and retain workers of this older demographic now and into the future?
All employers need to recognise the potential that already exists within their workforce and create age friendly workplaces if they are to be successful in future. By 2022, there will be 12.5 million job vacancies that need to be replaced due to people leaving the workforce, in addition to the 2 million new vacancies that will be created. However, there are estimated to be just 7 million younger people to fill them. Helping people to work for longer will be critical to closing this gap.
Older workers have often built up years of experience, and there is real value for employers in retaining their skills and talents. In addition, older employees contribute to a diverse and multi-generational workforce and can help organisations gain a better understanding their customers, many of whom are of a similar age.
Our Later life in 2015 study found that the social benefits of work are also important – work gives meaning and purpose, provides social contact and keeps us active. When we surveyed retired people about what they most missed about work, the overwhelming answer was the social connections.
Finally, we also know that helping people stay in work will have economic benefits; in terms of national productivity and ensuring that individuals have higher savings for later life.
What do you think are some of the most common barriers preventing older employees from continuing to work?
Many employers are not making the most of older worker’s talent. They are either ignoring the opportunity of recruiting and retaining older workers or do not know how to create age friendly workplaces.
Research shows that many employers have stereotyped views about older workers – from problems with health-related absence, to out-of-date skills or being ‘stuck in their ways’. A survey looking at attitudes to age in Britain showed that three times as many respondents believed that having a manager in their 70s was “completely unacceptable” compared to a boss in their 30s. These stereotypes aren’t borne out by the evidence and ignore the many benefits that employers gain from older workers.
The Missing Million report by Business in the Community estimated that approximately 1 million people have been made ‘involuntarily workless’ – pushed out of their previous job through a combination of redundancy, ill health or early retirement. In addition, some people find themselves out of work because they need to balance work and care.
What do you think are some of the most effective ways to tackle these issues?
We believe that it is crucial to learn from what leading employers are doing, and spread effective policies and practices widely. Strengthening the business case is also important so that more employers understand the benefits of employing older workers. Our partnership with Business in the Community will also involve understanding how to shift employer attitudes and workplace culture so that there is greater choice and opportunity for individuals who want to work in later life.
Some employers are making great progress. I recently shortlisted nominees for the Championing an Ageing Workforce award. What struck me was the variety of employers, both large and small, who are already taking innovative approaches. These organisations are sharing knowledge between generations, adapting workplaces to boost employee wellbeing and retention, and unlocking the potential of older recruits.
While employers increasingly recognise the importance of retaining the valuable skills and experience of their employees, there is little evidence on which employment practices are effective. And although we know something about what works from initiatives in the UK and internationally, there are still evidence gaps. We will therefore work with Business in the Community and other organisations to build the evidence base for better support for people aged 50 and over.
Changing legislation is another step to help support older workers, but doesn’t make a difference unless it is acted upon, with employers and individuals changing their behaviour. For example, since 2014 everyone who has been working for an employer for six months has had the right to request flexible working. We know that people over the age of 50 find this a particularly important factor, as it can help them build a working pattern around changes to health and caring that may come with age. However, not everyone is aware of this right or feels confident in requesting it. There may therefore be a role that champions and leaders within the workforce can do to promote awareness of these rights. Many of these initiatives are about shifting attitudes and prompting conversations to help all parties frame how they think about age in the workplace.
What other factors do you think are important in creating an age friendly workplace?
Factors that make an age friendly workplace are things that can make for fulfilling work for any age group. For example, promoting better health and wellbeing, allowing more open conversations between employees and their line managers, or providing adaptations and flexibility that mean that individuals can be more productive and happy in how and when they work.
The reality is that for many people in low pay or precarious jobs, work can be a financial necessity that may not be particularly fulfilling or good for their wellbeing. This makes working for longer in to your later life a particular challenge. That’s why it is important for us to work with a broad range of employers, employees and organisations who represent them to help improve things for people who are currently missing out on the benefits that work can bring.
Do you think more employers are starting to realise the benefit of retaining older employees and do you think this will become a continuing trend?
We know there are employers who understand the benefits, both to their employees and to their organisation, who are making progress. We want to learn from them and share this knowledge across the country to speed up change.
We are also keen to learn from other employers of all sizes and sectors to help understand and spread evidence about what works. Being age friendly should be a marker of every successful organisation.
Are there any trends as to what type of employers are more aware to the needs of creating age friendly workplaces?
Employers can do more, and many are. For example, the nominees for the Championing an Ageing Workforce award are taking innovative approaches to create age friendly workplaces. Each have their own business case, but what unites them is a recognition that things can be done in a different way, to benefit their organisations as well as their employees.
Is there any official legislation that you would like to see in place that could further encourage or facilitate more age friendly workplaces?
The Equality Act 2010 means that unfair discrimination because of age in the workplace is illegal. In addition, since the removal of the Default Retirement Age in 2011, employers are not able to retire people because of their age without reasonable justification. These are significant changes which show that age should not be a determinant for whether or not someone is able to make a valuable contribution at work.
For more information on the Centre for Ageing Better visit www.ageing-better.org.uk