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Lucie Mitchell explores why career coaching should be offered to over 50’s and why negative stereotypes may be standing in the way.
There are now more over 50s in the workforce than ever before, so employers must have strategies in place for retaining and developing their older workers if they are to plug any skills gaps and remain competitive in a tight labour market.
Employees over the age of 50 have valuable skills and experience to offer and, with the prospect of another 10 to 20 years of work ahead of them, many are taking stock of their careers and looking to gain new skills and experiences.
However, according to research by TotalJobs and Robert Walters – the current coronavirus situation excepted – 41% of workers over 50 feel there is a lack of opportunity to progress at their current workplace, while 72% believe they are overlooked for promotion.
Meanwhile, a report by the Centre for Ageing Better found that 32% of older workers are being offered fewer opportunities for training and progression. This is despite the fact that, according to the National Careers Advice Service, 61% of workers over 50 want the chance to learn new skills.
Career coaching is something employers can offer their mature workers to help them continue to grow and develop.
“Career coaching plays an important part in motivating, engaging and retaining older workers,” remarks Judith Wardell, founder of Time of your Life, a coaching business specialising in mid and later life planning. “I often meet people who have become disenchanted with their work after many years in the same role. They feel undervalued and looked over for development opportunities.”
Coaching can give older workers the opportunity to reflect on their skills and where they can best contribute to the business, while providing employers with essential information for talent management and succession planning, she adds. “Coaching enables individuals to be clear about how they see their future and feel confident to share their plans with their employer.”
John Lees, author of How to Get a Job You Love, says it’s sensible to recognise that mid-career repositioning is very common.
“We feel differently about work as our values and lifestyles change, and it’s good to reassess how we want to spend our last couple of decades of work. Coaching also helps organisations retain the wisdom and reliability that older workers offer, and this can have knock-on effects – older workers often make good mentors and can provide stability and act as role models for younger talent.”
Yet despite the strong business case for providing career coaching for older workers, Wardell believes not enough employers are offering this as a resource.
“In my experience, employers have been slow to recognise the need to encourage and support people to work longer and fuller lives,” she notes. “There is still a shocking amount of negative age stereotyping and unconscious bias in the workplace. We are ageing differently to previous generations and yet we still hold on to the idea of the traditional cliff-edge retirement.”
Lees adds that, due to being focused on both retention and engagement, many organisations are becoming more interested in career conversations, however numerous over 50s are still being overlooked for coaching.
“It is probably offered more to senior staff and those seen as rising talent, which may tend to exclude older workers,” he comments.
There are, however, some emerging examples of good practice where employers are providing mid-life career reviews as part of a whole strategy of developing an age-inclusive workplace, including Aviva and the TUC, says Wardell.
“We need to encourage more employers to question traditional practices around careers and personal development,” she adds.
One employer that offers career coaching to all their employees is law firm Boyes Turner. Diane Gerrard, executive coach at Boyes Turner Coaching, says they provide internal and external coaching for older workers to enable them to recognise the personal and business benefits of a well-balanced multigenerational workforce.
“This improves staff retention, employee morale and productivity and leads to fewer absences; and means skills, knowledge and experience are retained,” she comments. “We provide employees with the opportunity to explore their future identity, recognise their strengths and positive contribution to the business, and explore opportunities for life-long learning, work-life balance and flexible working opportunities.”
Career coaching can also help older workers ensure the next transition is the right one for them. “It’s about quality of life and being authentic rather than rushing to climb a career ladder,” remarks Wardell. “Life experience has often taught people that work is not the most important thing and they are looking for work-life balance or to create more of a portfolio life.”
Finally, Anthony Impey MBE, chair of the Skills Policy Unit at the Federation of Small Businesses, says that ageism is the last protected characteristic that employers need to address and is a social imperative that will deliver commercial benefits. “Coaching allows employers to address this issue head on, and enables them to tap into a valuable source of talent that is right under their noses.”