From education to employment

The benefits and disadvantages of Britain’s ageing workforce

#100YearLife – Figures released today (24 Jan) show there are 10,050,000 over 50s in employment, the equivalent of the population of Sweden 

Greater support is needed for the UK’s growing older workforce, as figures from the Office of National Statistics (ONS) show for the first time there are more than 10 million people aged over 50 in employment.

Employment rates for older workers have been steadily increasing since the early nineties (1992) when 56.5% of people aged between 50-64 were in work compared to 71.5% of 50-64 year olds currently working.

Over 50s now make up nearly one third (31%) of the entire UK workforce, up from around one in five (21%) in the early 1990s. With more people living longer and the State Pension Age rising, the number of older workers is expected to continue to grow.

Employment rates are increasing for people over the age of 50 but are still well below the rates of younger age groups. By the year before people reach State Pension Age over half are not working.

The Centre for Ageing Better is calling on Government and employers to ensure employment practices support the needs of older workers, so that people can enjoy work that is fulfilling for longer.

Anna DixonDr Anna Dixon, Chief Executive of the Centre for Ageing Better, said:

“Enabling more older workers to remain in work is critical to economic growth and to meeting the country’s future labour market needs. It also helps people to save more money for retirement and can have a positive effect on their wellbeing. Yet despite this, around one million older people are ‘involuntarily workless’ – out of work for a range of reasons including redundancy, caring responsibilities or ill health.”

“Employers need to recognise the value of their growing older workforce and ensure that their working cultures and practices are inclusive and don’t disadvantage older workers. This means giving access to flexible working patterns and workplace adjustments for those with health needs or caring responsibilities, ensuring older workers have the same opportunities for learning and career progression, and tackling age bias in recruitment.”

With an understanding that Britain’s population is ageing longer than ever before, is this beneficial for employers?

Since mid-2016, Britain’s population has increased by an incredible 392,000 with the Office for National Statistics claiming that the overall population has exceeded 66 million people in 2017 — but this isn’t only a result of more births. In fact, the ONS has recorded that 18 per cent of those based in the UK were 65+ and 2.4 per cent were 85+ in 2016.

Are workplaces beginning to acknowledge an ageing workforce?

In a survey of 500 UK employers published by the Centre for Ageing Better, it was suggested that many organisations throughout the country are unprepared for taking on an ageing workforce.

Britain’s population hasn’t lived as long, meaning that many organisations are unprepared to adopt the changes. In a survey of 500 employers in the UK, 24 per cent admitted that they weren’t ready to welcome a growing number of older workers and only 20 per cent were currently discussing an ageing workforce strategically in the workplace.

Age diversity seemed to be a big topic in the workplace too (20%), with 12 per cent of workers feeling uncomfortable carrying out their duties under younger management. However, just 33 per cent of the employers involved in the survey stated that they were looking to manage age diversity by giving training, guidance or support to managers in their business.

“The UK workforce is changing — and employers need to catch up. Improving policy and practice, tackling age bias and creating an age-friendly workplace culture is vital to ensuring that people can work for as long as they want to” commented Patrick Thomson, from Centre for Ageing Better.

The Prime Minister, Theresa May, stated that employers across the UK have to play their part in meeting the nation’s “grand challenges” when it comes to supporting older employees, pointing out that these members of staff have the right to “enjoy the emotional and physical benefits of having a job if they want one”.

Not only did the PM’s statement mirror Thomson’s opinion, the Centre for Ageing Better’s chief executive, Anna Dixon supported it too. She underlined: “As we live longer, we also need to work for longer. All employers need to adopt age-inclusive practices. Too many older workers are leaving the labour market prematurely at great cost to them personally, as well as the state.”

The challenges businesses face

As this is a new area that businesses begin to investigate, there will be some issues that are presented at the beginning. Depending on the job, for example, some employees will be required to work differently or in another type of capacity as they get older — employers should, and sometimes may be legally obliged — to support these changes by providing older staff members with alternative arrangements or opportunities to develop and learn new skills.

Opinions are also shifting on retirement. While in the past it wasn’t uncommon just to finish your 9-5 job and retire immediately, now a lot of older members of staff are looking to scale back their hours and reduce their number of responsibilities in the workplace gradually as they approach — and sometimes go past — their retirement age. Employers should be aiming to support employees if this is the path they want their career routes to take.

“Employers who help their staff to make plans for their future career and retirement at an early stage, including consideration of flexible retirement options, have most success in retaining older workers and enabling them to work effectively” was just one comment from NHS Employers.

To understand the change in an ageing workforce, it’s important to understand the following figures released by an NHS trade union survey.

  • More than 80 per cent of members were concerned that their physical and/or emotional health will be impacted if they had to work longer — could you offer staff members the opportunity to work shorter hours, or the chance to work from home, as they age? Furthermore, could you look to install straight stair lift in your workplace, which could be beneficial both to employees with disabilities and for supporting an older workforce, so they can still perform their job duties?
  • More than 75 per cent of members were concerned they would be unable to continue working in their current roles at the pace required, as well as worried that their performance levels would suffer an evident drop as a result of them getting older — could you offer staff members less strenuous jobs within a company as they age?
  • Much less than half of the members were of the belief that their employer valued older members of staff — are you offering incentives to all your workforce, and not just newcomers?
  • Under 34 per cent of members were of the belief that their employer offered flexible work in a fair manner — is it time to review your company’s shift patterns and how the workload is being distributed?

Why an ageing workforce can be beneficial?

For businesses, there are many benefits to allowing those who should be going into retirement to continue to work — or even hiring older people.

For instance, people who have been at a company or even just within an industry for a long period of time will, obviously, bring so much valuable experience and knowledge of a firm’s products and services.

This expertise can be shared among older members of staff to individuals who are just taking their first tentative steps into the world of work.

Having a mixture of both young and older employees, your business will gain a greater insight to different problems from two different perspectives.

We mentioned at the start of this article that the UK’s population is getting older, which means that your customer base will be ageing too.

By having members of your workforce who understand and relate to the older groups in your target audience, they will be able to assist your business by ensuring the firm remains relevant to these older consumers.

What’s more, they will be able to provide empathy and insight into how your deliver customer service to this demographic.

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