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Dealing With An Ageing Workforce

November 21 2009 - A recent report shows that just a half of employing organisations have a formal pro-age recruitment policy. It also shows that many employers are nervous of discussing age issues with workers approaching retirement. But many organizations are willing to make adjustments to the workplace in order to help retain employees when the issue is raised informally.

The research (An Ageing Workforce - The Employer's Perspective, by Helen Barnes, Deborah Smeaton and Rebecca Taylor, IES Report 468, October 2009) was undertaken jointly by the Institute for Employment Studies and the Policy Studies Institute, and funded by the Nuffield Foundation. It looks at employer attitudes towards older employees and the range of interventions organizations use to prevent early exit and facilitate continued employment.

Some of the main conclusions of the study are that:

  • many employers are happy to let people carry on working after the normal retirement age of 65
  • many employers would be happy to see compulsory retirement abolished
  • support is needed to get the best out of more mature workers

According to Helen Barnes, Principal Research Fellow at the Institute for Employment Studies:

"The number of older workers is rapidly increasing, so it's essential that both employers and government tackle this issue. We have found that many organisations struggle to raise the issue of age in the workplace, as they are wary of causing offence or risking discrimination. Rather than adopt hard and fast policies on age, almost all employers seem willing to consider modifications to the workplace to retain older workers on a case by case basis; but too often employees are also reluctant to raise the issue.

"The role of line managers is crucial here. Employers must make a greater effort to communicate with staff and highlight that alternative working arrangements are a possibility, and that staff have a degree of choice in the run-up to retirement age. Employees on their part also need to be better informed of their rights to help encourage them to engage with their employer."

Other significant findings include:

  • While formal pro-age recruitment policies and age management policies are more common in larger organisations, they are less likely in male-dominated industries and organisations tending to 'recruit from within'
  • Absence of formal pro-age recruitment policies does not necessarily mean bad practice as employers recognise the benefits of older workers
  • Some employers expressed reservations about older workers, particularly where 'they did not match their customer demographic' or work had a heavy manual element
  • UK employers regard health as a private, individual matter rather than a concern for them beyond meeting specific health and safety regulations
  • Some employers, especially small businesses or new businesses with young workforces simply do not have any experience of staff retiring. Larger organizations had greater familiarity with the retirement process and were more likely to have appropriate policies in place to manage the process
  • Older employees are recognised as a valuable resource in sectors with skills shortages and employers are keen to retain them

Age discrimination

A survey of 2682 managers and HR professionals in 2005 (prior to the Age Discrimination regulations) showed that age discrimination was commonplace.

The survey, conducted by the Chartered Management Institute and the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development, found that 59% of respondents said that they had been personally disadvantaged at work because of their age. 22% admitted that age has an impact on their own recruitment decisions.

The survey also found that nearly half (48%) had suffered age discrimination when applying for jobs and 39% believe their chances of promotion had been afffected by age discrimination. 63% of respondents believed that employees aged 30-39 years had the best promotion prospects. Just 2% cited 50 year-olds or above.

80% were hoping to retire by the age of 65, despite believing that the age of retirement for the average person in 10 years' time would be 66 or older. But 29% of organisations had already scrapped mandatory retirement ages.

The survey found that perception of how old is an 'older worker' had changed. Ten years ago, respondents cited 48 as the mean age for a female 'older employee' compared with 55 in 2005. But the perception remained that women get 'older' at a younger age. The mean age for an 'older' male employee was given as 57 in the survey, compared with 51 a decade earlier.



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