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Is Age the ‘Forgotten Factor’ in the UK Workplace?

The issues around being older at work were noticeable by their absence in the conversation.

Originally appeared HR World 6 October 2021. By Sarah Rice

With the recent National Inclusion Week (27 Sept-1 Oct) behind us it was fantastic to see people unite for diversity to have meaningful conversations around EDI at work.

But one thing stood out for me – the issues around being older at work were noticeable by their absence in the conversation.

Research findings from the recent 55/Redefined report ‘Shut out, forced out and overlooked’ revealed that over-55s want to work and progress, but feel disregarded when it comes to their career in later life.

In fact, the majority (68%) of over-55s feel the job market is closed to them, despite one in four wanting to work into their 80s.

While more than half (51%) of HR and business leaders monitor age diversity within their workforce, it’s clear that there is still a disconnect between employers’ efforts and employees’ perception of age in the workplace.

Employers EDI policies are leaving age behind

The study highlights several of these disparities, including that a third (30%) of employers were ‘very motivated’ to recruit 55-75-year-olds, yet a large majority of retirees (24%) said they felt forced to retire before they wanted to.

Combining this with the fact that, of urrently employed over-55s, 64% are not getting leadership training and a third have ‘lost interest in their job due to lack of development opportunities’, we can assume employers’ collective diversity and inclusion efforts to date are leaving behind age.

To combat this, it’s critical employers place age at the heart of their HR practices alongside gender, race and other diversity initiatives.

So where does the problem lie?

As hard as it may be to hear, our research reveals that age discrimination is being perpetuated by the people that control HR policy and standards.

This could be an unintended consequence of focusing exclusively on other protected diversity and inclusion characteristics.

But by 2050, the under-55 working-age population will have shrunk by around 20% in Western countries.

Pair this with the impact of the pandemic, which is disproportionately and adversely affecting older individuals, and employers can expect a serious shortfall in the workforce within our lifetimes.

The population of over-60s in the same timeframe will grow by 40% – forward-thinking firms that tackle ageism and capitalise on the value of older workers now will have an advantage over competitors.

How can HR leaders tackle ageism in the workplace?

Despite the report revealing the majority of businesses may need to take action to create a more inclusive environment for older workers, 28% of the 200 employers surveyed said that staff over the age of 55 ‘are not thought of any differently to younger members of staff.

For companies seeking guidance, however, there are things that HR leaders can do to attract and retain older workers:

  1. Be ‘bias active’: Understand the level of bias that exists already in your organisation against age and deliver training and insight while acting to address misplaced stereotypes or the unintended consequences of focusing on other diversity areas.
  2. Flex appeal: Encourage people to stay in the workforce for longer by creating new flexible roles that appeal to this over-55 talent pool. These could be permanent roles at three or four days per week, through to rehiring retired professionals for key periods of the year on flexible contracts.
  3. The will to skill: Invest in technical training and reskilling of this age group including current and new employees. Create schemes targeting this age group or hire cohorts of over-55s for in-demand roles that require technical or industry training.
  4. Change tack: Stop hiring on previous experience and technical fit, instead focusing on soft skills, behaviour, motivation, and cultural fit criteria. Support hiring managers to make this transition by creating new ways of recruiting and assessing talent that help encourage inclusivity for all.
  5. Engage the age: Get to know your existing over-55 workforce and be proactive in asking them what they want and how best you can support them to remain engaged in work for longer.

To download the full report, please click here.

Lyndsey Simpson is the founder and CEO of 55/Redefined