Figures released by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) revealed that the UK’s population reached its largest ever tally at 65.6 million during 2016. The nation’s population isn’t only getting bigger mind, as it’s also getting older as well. The ONS underlined this point, by recording that 18 per cent of citizens in the UK were 65+ in 2016 and that 2.4 per cent were 85+.

With our population getting older, it stands to reason that businesses throughout the UK will begin to witness an ageing workforce in the years ahead too. In this article, we explore the pros and cons of such a workplace…

The approach UK workplaces are taking regarding an ageing workforce

A lot of firms across the UK are currently unprepared for an ageing workforce, if the results of a survey of 500 of the nation’s employers which was published by the Centre for Ageing Better is anything to go by. In fact, 24 per cent of those involved in the study 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.

Another challenge for 20 per cent of the employers who took part in the survey has been the management of age diversity in the workplace. 12 per cent of older employees have also felt uncomfortable carrying out tasks under younger managers, while 10 per cent said the same when the roles were reversed. 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,” stated the Centre for Ageing Better’s lead on age-friendly employment, Patrick Thomson. “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."

Mr Thomson’s feelings have been echoed by Prime Minister Theresa May while she was making a speech on science and modern industrial strategy. The PM 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”.

The views of the PM were supported by the Centre for Ageing Better’s chief executive, Anna Dixon. 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 associated with an ageing workforce

There’s no denying that there will be issues that you’ll need to encounter with having an ageing workforce at your firm. 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.

Views on retirement has changed quite significantly across most of the UK as well. 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,” NHS Employers went on to note when focusing on retirement.

WLG staff infographic FINAL

The following findings from a survey involving NHS trade union members should also serve to highlight some other important issues to consider in regards to an ageing workforce:

  • 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 a curved or straight stair lift depending on the setup of 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 ageing workforces should be viewed positively by employers

An ageing workforce can provide a business with so many benefits. 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.

By having a team populated with individuals of many different ages, a firm will also gain an advantage of having people with a wide variety of views to consult with. This diversity should deliver a company with plenty of fresh perspectives, a whole host of ideas, and problem-solving tactics that probably would be missed if only one generation dominated a workplace.

Consider your customers as well. 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.

Lee Dover, writing on behalf of Acorn Stairlifts

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