26 Feb 2020
Tony Watts OBE, Director of Communications at EngAgeNet, writes about the top ten findings from focus group studies, investigating what a truly age-friendly workplace might look like.
Every month or two, another survey is published or a statistic released that reinforces the now received wisdom that many of us will need to keep working for longer than we may have planned in order to be financially secure in later life.
Staying in work for longer is certainly beneficial to the individual’s pockets, but it’s also in the government’s interest to support people to work for longer. The longer we can be working and earning, the more we’ll boost tax revenues and the economy, and reduce our chances of needing to access benefits or pension credit. Enlightened employers are also gradually coming around to the view that lifetime’s worth of expertise and experience will be sacrificed if they fail to retain and recruit older workers.
Despite this increased awareness, we still have an estimated 800,000 people aged 50 and over who would like to be in work but are not – and MPs themselves have branded this an “unacceptable waste of talent”.
We know from all the research to date that the principal barrier is a set of entrenched attitudes and workplace practices, including ageist recruitment policies, inflexible hours and an unwillingness to adapt the workplace for ageing bodies.
What we now need are practical ways to overcome the obstacles. And who better to come up with solutions than those most affected: older people themselves?
That is the goal of EngAgeNet – an organisation formed to put the voices of older people back at the heart of national conversations about ageing. We’ve been travelling the country to hold focus groups on a range of pressing topics including care, housing, digital inclusion, employment and retirement.
We held two focus groups on the issue of employment, hoping to gain a granular, detailed picture of what a truly age-friendly workplace might look like. While some alternative experiences and ideas emerged from the two groups, a lot of common ground was established and powerful insight gained.
Large numbers of older workers themselves want – and need – to keep economically active, while changing demographics and Brexit threaten a looming skills shortage. A win-win solution is achievable if more employers sit down with older people and work together on this challenge. The next stage of our plans is to kickstart that process, working with organisations and employers who share our vision.
Tony Watts OBE is Director of Comms for EngAgeNet and is currently co-writing a book on mid-life reviews.