Best for 50+ workers

What constitutes best practice when it comes to employing over 50s? We spoke to Phoenix, who won this year’s WM People Top Employer Award for its approach to hiring 50+ workers.

Happy older woman looking up studio shot

 

As the UK’s largest long-term savings and retirement business, listening to over 50s is central to Phoenix’s principles. What’s more, the company is on a mission to promote better, longer lives, with its Phoenix Insights think tank leading research in this area and only too aware of the impact that greater longevity without proper preparation will have.

Phoenix knows that good work plays a vital role in better, longer lives and believes it is essential that what the company offers as an employer matches what it is promoting as a business. 

Tamar Hughes, Talent, Development and Inclusion Director, says: “We have a vision to be the best place colleagues have ever worked. We offer a really wide range of support from midlife MOTs and access to learning, to squiggly career workshops, paid carers leave and menopause support and we have a fantastic wellbeing offering.”

This vision is led from the top by CEO Andy Briggs, who is the Government’s Business Champion for Older Workers, but the commitment to age diversity permeates all levels of the organisation and its Recruit, Retain, Retrain strategy. 

That means all language and imagery used in recruitment is age-inclusive. Phoenix was among the first organisations to sign the Age-Friendly Employer Pledge. In addition, training is offered to all employees at all ages and stages. 

That phrase – all ages and stages – is repeated to make sure the message is clear. Thirty-nine per cent of employees are over 45 – an important asset considering its customer profile – and learning is a continuous process for everyone, with growth being one of the company’s key values. 

Career development is encouraged at all ages and delivered through many different means, including apprenticeships which have been undertaken by some 50+ workers. The age inclusivity message extends from before recruitment to outreach.

Through Andy’s links with the Department for Work and Pensions and the Minister for Employment, Phoenix recently collaborated on an innovative pilot over 50s employment fair in Edinburgh where it has a large employee base

The fair was inspired by the positive impact of Jobcentre 50PLUS Champions on employment outcomes. And so they wanted to explore the impact a dedicated 50+ employment fair might have on workers interested in the financial services industry. Phoenix and partners worked with local employers and Jobcentre Plus to build the event which attracted over 250 people. 

It included job readiness sessions, coaching, CV writing and Google skills. “It was really engaging and there was a lot of energy from having so many people and employers all in the room,” says Hughes. “We are keen to experiment and test what works and we took a lot of learnings from hosting the fair.”

Forty people got job offers as a result of the fair, either within Phoenix Group or with another employer who participated on the day. One of the main findings was the importance of looking at people and their skills in the round rather than skills that are linked to a specific role. This has led Phoenix to partner with mentoring tech platform Connectr on a ‘Your New Futures’ programme that gets people to think about all the skills and knowledge they have, how they find jobs and build their confidence. “It’s not just about connecting with employers. It provides a bridge for people to focus on their skills,” says Hughes. Thirty-two people who went on the programme worked with Connectr to hone their interview skills and increase their chances of being hired. Hughes says it is often the small things like Google training or thinking about how to share your skills and experience in your CV that make a big difference.

The fair was so successful that another was also run in Birmingham with over 400 people. Phoenix is making recommendations to DWP managers in Birmingham about creating a blueprint of what is needed to help over 50s who have been out of work for some time to get back into employment. 

That includes thinking about the time needed to get people up to speed and what adaptations might be needed to take account of their training needs. 

Hughes says training programmes need to take account of people’s different needs. What works for one group might not be right for another and you also need to make adjustments to get the best outcomes – the same goes for younger people, with some needing additional support. 

“The scaffolding and structure we need to put in place around individuals is key,” she states. Managers also need to be educated to be aware of the long-term benefits of hiring 50+ workers in terms of loyalty and life skills, for instance, in areas such as customer service.”

For Phoenix, working with like-minded partners is vital as it is an opportunity to increase reach and impact and also to learn from each other’s experiences.

Flexible working

Phoenix has a very flexible culture promoted through Phoenix Flex, its flexible working policy. All employees are actively encouraged to consider how they work. Ignite, its employee network providing career support for colleagues at all ages and stages, held a recent session which drove home the importance of flexible working to individuals. It heard that 50+ employees’ reasons for working flexibly were varied, from those needing to have more autonomy over where they work to those needing reduced hours so they can have a greater work-life balance, have time to re-energise or for caring duties. The group were very open to job shares and to coaching others on elements of their job that they could then hand over, giving them time to focus on those they were expert in. 

More generally, Phoenix shares meaningful stories of over 50s who work flexibly. Hughes says this, along with workshops like the Ignite one and advertising all roles as open to flexible working have helped to normalise working flexibly.

It also has several ways that employees in the later stages of their career can think about retirement or about different ways of working pre-retirement. The glide path – a two-month pre-retirement period with reduced hours, on full pay (with no fixed retirement age) – has been in force since 2020 and allows people to test what it might be like to have less work in their lives.

Planning for the future

Phoenix also offers a series of sessions to help employees plan for the future. First are its midlife MOTs. It has two options: one is a digital self-assessment tool which is open to all; the other involves workshops offered to those who are 10 years or less from retirement with the aim being to get people thinking about what their future might be like and to start planning. 

There are also optional retirement planning courses, also available to spouses, and end of career guidance sessions with experts and these are publicised in internal communications, referred to in town hall meetings and news articles as well as in regular leaders together sessions. Additional advice is available via its Employee Assistance Programme Provider, My Health Assured.

The company’s benefits can be tailored to people’s specific needs and they select them each year so they keep pace with individuals’ changing lives. In keeping with this tailored approach, Phoenix offers employees access to Nudge, a financial wellbeing platform which combines behavioural psychology, data and personalised education to empower people to develop their financial skills and knowledge.

Hughes says one of the most common questions from the midlife MOT sessions is whether people can afford to retire. Nudge helps them understand their finances and retirement support helps them to access advice and think about whether they might need to increase their pension contributions or can afford to reduce their hours, for example. Other issues of concern are access to healthcare and learning if they retire. Hughes says offering more flexible options means people can stay in work and access those benefits for longer. Another concern was that they could not imagine what retirement would be like. Phoenix has set up some sessions with recently retired employees to talk about their transition to retirement.

Carers

Many 50+ workers have caring responsibilities and Phoenix has long supported them. Its  Carers Network was set up in 2014 and has 166 members. The company has done a lot of work to highlight that carers can be of any age, providing unpaid care and support to a family member, friend or neighbour who is disabled, has an illness or long-term condition, or who needs extra help as they grow older. As part of individuals’ on-boarding activities they are asked if they are a carer so that they can be directed to any support they might need. The company offers 10 days paid carers’ leave as well as emergency leave and compassionate leave under its Carers Leave Policy and Carers Champions are available for one-to-one advice. 

Phoenix has been recognised externally for its work on carers, for instance, it is a Level 2 Carer Confident employer which means it has support in place to help carers identify themselves in the workplace and includes carers in the development of policies and processes to support carers within the workplace. Employees can also signal to HR that they are a carer. Hughes says 13% of its employees have caring responsibilities and many have shared their stories, particularly around the importance of flexible working. The Carers Network collaborated recently with the sustainability team on a quiz for customers and employees to help encourage people to understand that being a carer is not just about living with the person you care for. 

Health

There is also health support for workers themselves. That includes menopause training for managers and individuals. Managers are trained in how to support colleagues who may be experiencing menopause symptoms and what the company’s policies are on menopause. Individuals benefit from awareness-raising work across the company, access to menopause champions and monthly menopause meet-ups where they can ask any questions they have. There is a men-o-pause group for men which provides a safe space for men to find out about the menopause and some of the 25 menopause champions are men. Menopause support has been added to the company’s private healthcare provision so employees have access to a menopause expert. The aim is to normalise conversations about menopause and enable women to stay in work. Phoenix’s work on the menopause has been acknowledged externally: it was awarded Menopause Friendly Accreditation by the Henpicked Independent Panel.

Despite all that it offers and all its work externally campaigning for better, longer lives, Phoenix is not complacent. It knows there is much more to do, particularly when it comes to intersectionality, although it already analyses all DEI data by age. That data was moved to the HR people system in February and it is keen to get more detailed information from employee surveys so it can ensure that its work is data-led and that it is not spending time on issues it perceives to be problems without addressing the root causes. In doing so it is once again leading the way to understanding potential barriers on the road to better, longer lives.

*Phoenix won this year’s WM People Award for Best for Older Workers and will feature in the WM People Best Practice Report, out this month.



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