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Why age-friendly employment is a win-win for everyone

As numbers of mature employees increase in coming years, businesses will need to up their game when it comes to engaging older workers.

Patrick Thomson, Programme Manager, Centre for Ageing Better, outlines the benefits of age-friendly employment and why we are urging employers to adapt five steps to an age-friendly workplace.

By 2025, there will be a million more people over the age of 50 in the workplace, but 300,000 fewer workers under the age of 30. Job vacancies and numbers in work are both reaching record levels.

Employers must act if they want to attract and retain skilled older workers. If they don’t, they risk falling behind their competitors.  

The Centre for Ageing Better has published a new report, 'Becoming an age-friendly employer', setting out practical steps for employers to create a more supportive, age-positive culture and boost the candidate pool of older workers.

We’re urging employers to adopt five steps to an age-friendly workplace.

Be flexible about flexible working

Employers should offer more and different kinds of flexibility, take the time to manage it well, and help people to know their options.

Flexible working is important for workers of all ages. It can help many older workers to balance caring responsibilities, a health condition or allow a phased transition to retirement.

However, older workers aren’t always able to benefit from flexible working. They might not know about their flexible working options and they may assume the right to request relates only to parents and carers.

Too many older applicants are frozen out of the job market due to inadequate processes, age bias and a lack of engagement from employers or recruiters.

As a long-standing member of staff, it can be difficult to raise the question of working flexibly if your employer assumes you will always be working in the same way.

Employers need to be attuned to the changing needs of their staff, whether they are in their first week or have been employed for many years. Employers who offer good quality flexible working arrangements benefit from more engaged staff who are likely to stay for longer and feel more positive about their work.

Hire age-positively

Recruiters need to actively target candidates of all ages and take steps to minimise age bias in recruitment processes.

Leading employers actively target older as well as younger candidates and use a variety of recruitment techniques to find people. Despite this, too many older applicants are frozen out of the job market due to inadequate processes, age bias and a lack of engagement from employers or recruiters.

It’s impossible to completely remove unconscious bias from decision-making, but there are several things you can do to minimise the impact of age stereotypes at each stage of the recruitment process:

  • Use images and language that are age-neutral and inclusive in recruitment adverts and job descriptions
  • Incorporate ‘blind’ application and shortlisting stages
  • Use structured panel interviews or assessments
Ensure everyone has the health support they need

It’s important to enable early and open conversations about health at work and offer early and sustained access to support for people managing health conditions.

Research shows that older workers are more likely than younger workers to be managing multiple long-term health conditions and that they are the main driver of older workers leaving work before they reach state pension age.

Evidence suggests that older workers are less likely to access support to manage their health condition at work, and when they do, that support is rarely sustained.

Older workers need to be supported to access the workplace adjustments that can enable them to stay in good, fulfilling work for as long as they want.

Encourage career development at all ages

It’s important for people to be provided with opportunities to develop their careers and plan for the future at mid-life and beyond. Opening career development and support to workers in mid-life can benefit employers in a range of ways.

We need new ways of understanding, speaking about and managing age at all levels of the multi-generational workplace.

As well as building the skills and knowledge of their whole workforce, it signals the employer’s commitment to all staff, regardless of age, and to boosting engagement and retention of older workers.  

Whatever their age, employees value opportunities to discuss their future aims and aspirations. This can help to identify their future training or development needs.

It is important to keep discussing the skills and knowledge that workers need or want to learn, as part of regular line management and development conversations, at all ages.

Create an age-positive culture

HR professionals and managers need to be equipped to promote an age-positive culture, and support interaction and networking among staff of all ages. People enter, leave and progress at work at different stages of life, as they balance aspirations and needs at work and at home.  

Therefore, workplaces need to have good practice demonstrated across the business, from the executive team through to HR professionals, managers and colleagues.

We need new ways of understanding, speaking about and managing age at all levels of the multi-generational workplace.

Age-friendly employment is a win-win for everyone

Enabling more people to be in fulfilling work for longer is a win-win for everyone. It helps employers retain skilled workers, it helps people who want to stay in work for longer and it helps to boost the economy.

For individuals, being in good quality, fulfilling work for as long they want to be is critical for financial security now and into the future, as well as providing meaning, purpose and social connections in the workplace.

Employers benefit from retaining their most experienced people, reducing the risk they face of future labour and skills shortages, and having a workplace that is fit for the future.

For the wider economy, reducing the employment gap between people currently in their late 40s and those aged between 50 and state pension age could see increased tax revenues and help boost GDP.

First published on HRZone

Becoming an age-friendly employer

Read the report
Patrick Thomson
Senior Programme Manager – Implementation