Maximising the talents of older workers.

Written by: Nabil Verdickt is head of performance media at Penna.
Published on: 9 Feb 2023

Huge efforts have taken place in recent years to minimise discrimination in society and the workplace. These advances across organisations in the UK and beyond have been well documented in improving the rights of previously marginalised groups – whether this is because of race, sexual orientation, gender, disability, or another part of simply who someone is.

One area, however, that often gets overlooked is in the older generation of workers – who still have so much to offer the workplace yet are increasingly being made to feel like they don’t belong or are not part of the future of organisations.

Research released last week from the Chartered Management Institute (CMI) suggests that only 42% of managers would be ‘open’ to hiring workers aged between 50 and 64 to a large extent – a far lower figure than those open to hiring from younger age groups.

Age discrimination – the realities

As life expectancy in the UK now hovers around 81 on average, it is very likely that by the time you reach 50 if you do not meet the criteria of what is perceived as being an attractive talent, you may face harsh prejudices, discrimination, and higher risks of being made redundant. Age is something we all must deal with – but the stigma around it and unfortunate stereotyping is something we should not have to.

Although it is still against the law to discriminate against anyone because of their age, the number of age discrimination complaints to employment tribunals in the UK increased by 74% between 2019 and 2020, before labour markets were dramatically affected by the pandemic.

The ‘great unretirement’ and redundancies

As recruiters, we are familiar with the ‘great resignation’ which kept us busy for a lot of 2022. However, there is another trend that should get our attention, the ‘great unretirement’. With spiralling inflation, volatile financial markets and the soaring cost of living, retired people are returning to the workplace.

However, there has also been great worry for those who are in work in this age group, with redundancies among the over-50s having increased by 195% in a year between 2020 and 2021 – a higher level than in any other age group.

According to ONS data: ‘Those aged 50 years and over had the highest overall increase in redundancy rate over the year to December 2020 to February 2021, rising from 4.3 to 9.7 per thousand, up 5.4 per thousand on the year.’

This was the highest redundancy rate across age groups in this quarter.

As the data suggests, the older you get, the harder it seems that getting and holding onto a job will become.

The value of older workers

It is normal for organisations to look to the future when planning for hires, but many are missing a trick with the skills and attributes that those in the ‘older worker’ category can bring to a workforce.

As well as the experience and opinion a career spanning several decades can bring, often those who have seen a lot in their career can rely on more general skills like their problem-solving capabilities, adaptability and reliability that a younger worker may or may not have, or had chance to prove consistently yet.

The Adecco Group’s Workforce of the Future report into post-pandemic labour markets goes into this in greater detail.

How can employers address the issues felt by older workers?

Firstly, simply understanding the incredible value older workers can bring to an organisation is a start. As with all successful organisations, diversity is at their heart – whether this is diversity of gender, race, mind or, indeed, age.

We at Penna know we have a role to play in this through our consultancy work – we’re on a journey at different stages of this with employers up and down the country, looking at things like the language and imagery they are using in their campaigns and beyond.

But there are others too helping the over-50s – organisations committed to helping this group with their work, money, health, legal, wellbeing, volunteering, lifestyle and dating parts of their lives – services like Rest Less, Working Wise and 55 Redefined.

Considering the needs of older workers in your EVP with reference to some of these organisations and their practices, for example, is a good start.

Finally, by committing to a recruitment and retention strategy that has diversity at its heart, you can not only protect the interests of older workers but also make yourself a more inclusive and ultimately successful employer.

Contact our diversity consultancy to see how we can help.

Nabil Verdickt is head of performance media at Penna.