How can employers embrace an age-friendly workplace culture?
By Annie Makoff on 21 October 2021
There has been a rise in workplace age discrimination during the pandemic. The Centre for Ageing Better warned recently of a large wave of redundancies across the over 50s age group following the closure of the furlough scheme.
According to the think tank, the rate of unemployment among the 50-64s increased since the start of the pandemic from 2.8 to 3.4 per cent. 31,000 were made redundant between May and July this year.
Stuart Lewis, founder of Rest Less, a digital community for the over 50s, told d&i Leaders that long-term trends of increasing employment among older workers have been reversed. “Prior to the pandemic, 80 per cent of employment growth in the UK came from the over 50s,” he says. “Now we are seeing many more people in their 50s and 60s either choosing to – or having to – take early retirement – something for which many are not financially or emotionally prepared.”
It’s also statistically harder for older workers to return to the workplace. Additional research revealed that over a third of 50-70 year olds felt ‘disadvantaged’ during the recruitment process due to their age.
One Rest Less member shared recently they had applied for over 900 roles since being made redundant in August 2019. “Many are told they are ‘overqualified’ which doesn’t really make any sense,” says Lewis. “The real concerns are that someone with significant experience will get bored, move on quickly or be difficult to manage. But instead of addressing these head-on with the candidate, they tend to get lumped into the ‘overqualified’ bucket and dismissed out of hand.”
Angela Watson, age campaign manager at Business in the Community (BITC) agrees. “The fact is, once a person reaches fifty, they are likely to be overlooked due to age bias. The pandemic has exacerbated these inequalities, with some older employees being laid off and others put on long-term furlough.”
Yet, there is a clear case for employing older workers. Watson cites the many benefits for business, workforce and the wider economy including: retaining knowledge and experience by recruiting and/or retaining over 50s, increased knowledge sharing through a multi-generational workforce, better representing the customer base by employing an age-diverse workforce and reducing turnover costs.
BITC has been leading the UK’s business response in helping to level the playing field for older workers through the think tank’s Age Taskforce, made up of Aviva, DWP, EY, GSK, Home Instead, the RAF and chaired by Phoenix Group. Together they have pioneered action to become age friendly employers, encouraging more of BITC’s members to follow suit. Examples include mid-life MOTs – check-ups – for employees between 40-60 years, focusing on individuals’ wealth, work and wellbeing, plus age-friendly recruitment strategies, support for carers, and other age inclusive policies such as flexible working and additional wellbeing support.
Elsewhere, Renegade Generation, an independent resource for older workers currently list nearly fifty companies with age-friendly policies including Boots, B&Q, Jaguar Land Rover, McDonalds, Sainsbury’s and Whitbread. Whitbread in particular, offer ageless apprenticeships.
“Age-inclusive workplaces like these recognise the value of older workers in their strategy and policies,” says Watson. “They benefit from skilled, multi-generational workforces where older and younger employees share with and learn from each other.”
Becoming an age-friendly employer
So what should employers be doing to become age-friendly businesses?
“Stop leaving age discrimination out of the D&I conversation,” says Cynthia Davis, CEO of BAME Recruitment and co-founder of diversity career platform, Diversifying.io. “It is still too common that organisations look for a perceived ‘ideal’ candidate by specifying upper and lower years of experience. For example, looking for someone with 4-8 years of experience. This outdated and discriminatory practice needs to stop.”
As well as offering flexible working patterns, investing in L&D and supporting employee health and wellbeing, Davis advises accessing ‘wider’ talent pools and a variety of communities by ‘refreshing’ any outdated and biased search processes. It’s also important that hiring managers receive training to ensure they see the value that older candidates can offer.
Chris Brook-Carter, chief executive of the retail industry charity the Retail Trust advises implementing wellbeing strategies specifically for menopausal women. “The menopause is one issue that retail employers cannot afford to ignore,” he explains. “Menopausal women are now the UK’s fastest growing work demographic.” Employers can make ‘key’ adjustments to support this demographic, such as time off for medical appointments, flexible shift rota systems, providing spare uniforms or desk fans and providing emotional support for menopause-related performance issues.
Yet Davis is of the opinion that despite on-going and existing issues, there are now new opportunities to embrace. The permanent move towards flexible and hybrid working patterns post-pandemic has ‘created a path’ for older workers who may have previously been excluded by rigid working policies. Meanwhile, the current challenging nature of the hiring market is forcing employers to ‘think creatively’ about untapped talent pools such as returning to work mums or investing in upskilling older candidates.
According to Rest Less’s Lewis, demographic and societal changes including an aging population, delayed retirement and multi-generational workplaces will continue to be the direction of travel for a long time to come. As he points out: “the employers and HR teams that recognise this early, get ahead of the trend and embrace it early are going to be the workforces and businesses that thrive over the next decade.”
The Retail Trust is running a free event for retail HR leaders. Click here to register for the Retail Trust Leaders’ Summit on 9 November at Andaz London Hotel.
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