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Older worker in laboratory

Unlocking the potential of older workers starts with evidence

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Like our society as a whole, our workforce is ageing. Between 2005 and 2015 the number of people working over the age of 50 increased by 2.5 million and the number working over the age of 65 has more than doubled.

With a rising state pension age and life expectancy increasing, working for longer will become more commonplace. This has implications for how individuals balance their working patterns and highlights the importance for employers in creating age-friendly workplaces.

We already know that people who are out of work over the age of 50 face major barriers to getting back into employment. Even for those older workers who are in employment there can be significant challenges without a supportive working environment.

Research shows that many employers have a range of stereotyped views about older workers – from problems with health-related absence, to out-of-date skills or being ‘stuck in their ways’. These stereotypes aren’t borne out by the evidence and ignore the many benefits that employers gain from employing older workers, for example retaining skills and experience.

Some employers have already taken the lead in creating the business case for age-friendly workplaces. Learning from employers and sharing evidence and experience are crucial to realising the benefits that these practices can bring. That is why the Centre for Ageing Better has partnered with Business in the Community and their Age at Work network.

The aim of this partnership is to use evidence to encourage more employers to support older workers, as well as promoting understanding of the benefits to employers.

Our major research Wellbeing in Later Life – which looks at the views and experiences of people aged 50 and over – shows that motivations and attitudes to work change with age, employment history, health and other circumstances. Many of these findings are highly relevant to employers who are planning for how they can manage an ageing workforce that will include multiple generations.

For instance, when we asked people in their 50s why they were still working the most frequent response was financial – ‘I need to earn money’ (35%). However, people still working over the age of 65 were more likely to say it was because they enjoyed their work or it gave them a sense of purpose.

When we asked retired people what they most miss about work, by far the most frequent response was the social relationships (36%). This was significantly higher than other financial factors such as missing the income (8%) or earning money (6%).

It is also higher than other factors related to a sense of purpose such as ‘the feeling that I’m doing something useful’ (8%), ‘having something to do’ (4%), ‘having structure to my week’ (4%) and ‘getting out of the house’ (3%). By better understanding individuals’ motivations and needs to work for longer, employers can improve their workforce planning and retention.

Employers can do more, and many are. 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. 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.

An ageing workforce doesn’t need to be a problem to be fixed. With the right approaches, based on evidence, it can be an opportunity. We hope that our partnership with Business in the Community will help these groundbreaking practices to become the norm, improving working life for everyone.

Patrick Thomson
Senior Programme Manager – Fulfilling Work