The population of the UK is getting larger, with a figure of 65.6 million released by the Office for National Statistics in 2016. But it’s not just increasing – the population is getting older too, with 18% of the UK being 65+ and 2.4% being 85+
Is this a help or a hinderance to employers? In this article, we explore the positive and negative impact of an older workforce.
The UK’s workforce
The Centre for Ageing Better surveyed 500 UK employers, and the results showed that many appeared unprepared for the ageing workforce at hand. In fact, 24% of those involved in the study admitted that they weren’t ready to welcome a growing number of older workers and only 20% were currently discussing an ageing workforce strategically in the workplace.
Age diversity also proved problematic for 20% of the employers surveyed; 12% of older employees felt uncomfortable working for younger managers. However, just 33% 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.
Lead on age-friendly employment at the Centre for Ageing Better, Patrick Thomson, said: “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.”
Meanwhile, as part of her science and modern industrial strategy speech, Prime Minister Theresa May also came to the same conclusion. 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”.
Anna Dixon, chief executive for the Centre for Ageing Better, agreed with both. 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 hurdles of an ageing workforce
There are some aspects to take note of with an ageing workforce. 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.
The UK’s view on retirement has also shifted. 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.
NHS Employers spoke on retirement: “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.”
Want to make sure your workplace is helping an ageing workforce? Consider the findings of this survey of NHS trade union members:
- More than 80% 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 stairlift depending on the setup of your workplace? This could be beneficial both to employees with disabilities, who may need disabled stairlifts anyway, and for supporting an older workforce so they can still perform their job duties.
- More than 75% 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% 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?
The benefits of an ageing workforce
Older workers bring many benefits to your business. 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 workers from different age brackets also offers a wider variety of views. 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.
Keep your customers in mind too. 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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