Why businesses must support older workers 

Article by Andrew Drake, Client Development Director, Buck

Older business man and woman on laptop, supporting older workersDespite efforts to increase diversity in the workplace, ageism continues to be alive and well in many businesses.

In fact, research has shown that more than a third of employees aged 45 and over believe age discrimination is an issue where they work.

While discriminating against someone on the basis of their age should be as unacceptable as race or gender, it can often be difficult to prove. Companies can put age limits on certain roles so long as they can “objectively justify” their reasons. Equally, employers may argue that they want to open up more opportunities for graduates and younger workers, or perhaps focus on increasing other forms of diversity.

But company policy is one thing; sidelining or persuading older staff to leave, even if they would prefer to stay, is a different matter.

Ageing population

By 2025, there will be one million more people aged 50 and over, and 300,000 fewer people aged 30 and under in the workplace. Add to this the fact that we are living, on average, almost a decade longer than our grandparents thanks to improved healthcare, it’s clear that rather than being in the wind-down stage of their career, older employees are fast becoming a vital part of our workforce.

For many people, continuing to work well into their 60s and even their 70s also makes financial sense. Longer lifespans, coupled with the rising cost of living, has placed workers under greater pressure to top up their pension savings while they still can, with almost two thirds of workers aged 50 and over admitting they will have to work longer than they had expected for financial reasons.

The problem is only likely to get worse for future generations too. A perfect storm of greater life expectancy, the end of generous final-salary pension schemes and sky-high property prices, means working past traditional state pension age could become the norm for millennials and Generation Z, rather than the exception.

Value of older staff

The experience, knowledge and skills that older workers bring to the workplace should not be underestimated. Nearly nine out of 10 (88%) over-50s believe they have more to offer than their younger colleagues, but despite this, a huge 83% feel there are fewer employment opportunities available to them.

Most employers now recognise the benefits of having a diverse workforce, from different ethnicities and genders to sexual orientation and religion, and age is just as important.  Businesses that are skewed towards younger workers or fail to support their older staff stand to lose out both culturally and financially.

Not only are diverse companies proven to be more dynamic and productive, but age-friendly employers are more appealing to both customers and potential candidates, with nearly half (47%) of millennial job seekers actively considering diversity and inclusion when sizing up potential employers.

If employers are not seen to care about staff once they reach a certain age, it can have a big impact on their external reputation as well as employee engagement and retention. So, while it’s great for businesses to support younger generations entering the workplace, it’s equally important to value and nurture the skills and expertise of older workers.

Long-term strategy

To oust ageism from the workplace for good, businesses need to take a long-term approach to their policies and practices. Currently, just one in five companies have an age strategy in place at board level.

The first step to is to focus on creating a supportive and inclusive culture, where every employee feels a valued part of the business regardless of age. Offering flexible working and phased retirement can be a great way to support employees in the later stages of their career, while continuing to meet the demands of the business.

Similarly, age should not be seen as a barrier to learning and development. On the contrary, providing continual training opportunities to all members of staff will make sure that skillsets and knowledge are up to date right across the board. Investing in older employees will also make them feel more valued, which can have a positive impact on their motivation and productivity.

Finally, providing financial advice and information can be crucial in helping employees understand how to make the most of their savings and help reduce financial worries. How would they like to spend their retirement? Do they have a sufficient nest egg? Talking through later-life goals with employees can be a great way to help them envisage a future after work and assess the steps they need to take to help them achieve their ideal retirement.

But for initiatives to be truly effective, they need to start from the moment an employee first joins the company. Helping staff with their financial wellbeing and planning for the future, from young through to old, will make them feel prepared for the day when retirement comes – whatever age that may be.

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