Employer best practice for older workers

From positive ageing training to every job being advertised as open to job share, employers at National Older Workers Week spoke of how they valued older workers and were trying to retain them.

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People change as they age and that can bring huge benefits to the workplace, particularly if we shape the work environment around them, a National Older Workers Week employer webinar heard this week.

Lisa Edgar, Chief Customer Officer at Saga, which is focused on serving the needs of those aged 50 and over, said people’s decision-making abilities get better as people age. What they lose in terms of speed of reasoning, they more than compensate for with the huge bank of knowledge and know how they accumulate over a lifetime – which she called ‘crystallised intelligence’. She added that research shows we make our best and most complex judgements well into our 50s and beyond. That judgement and decision-making is crucial for today’s workplace, she stated. Older people are also less reliant on peer group comparisons so are less inclined to group think, which again makes for better decision-making, said Edgar. She also debunked the idea that younger people are speedier and more productive, saying there is a strong link between length of time in work and productivity.

She added that older people tend to be motivated more by things like purpose, impact and task completion rather than promotion and pay. That means they tend to be more engaged in what they are doing and achieving, she stated. They also often continue to work on a voluntary basis after retirement and if employers could replicate what they get from that work better she believes they could bring people back to the workplace.

“We could maximise the value of older workers if we recognised the changes that getting older brings as being positive and shaped the work environment to bring those positives to the fore,” she said.

She added that Saga puts these values at the heart of what it does both for its workers and its customers. 90% of employees have been through its positive ageing training programme. Its policies support how it values older workers, said Edgar, and include grandparent leave, menopause policies, hybrid working and volunteering days. It is now focusing more on intergenerational work and how to make work more meaningful.

From Phoenix Flex to a carer concierge

Michaela Gibson Head of DEI Transformation & Programme Management at Phoenix Group, the UK’s largest long-term savings and retirement business, spoke of the organisation’s five policies for age inclusion:

  • Phoenix Flex which includes all aspects of flexibility, with teams or business units working with individuals to decide what works best for them;
  • Employee network groups, including Ignite, its age inclusion network which works both internally and externally to promote age diversity;
  • Carers’ leave – Phoenix offers 10 days of fully paid carer’s leave which can be taken in single days, half days or in blocks with extra unpaid leave available for those who need more and an option of a career break of up to a year for those who have been with the company over two years;
  • Midlife MOTs which help people prepare for their retirement through, for instance, reducing their hours or working only at one point in the year, while continuing to be a permanent employee;
  • A fully funded carer concierge service for anyone who is a carer. The service can, for instance, liaise with care homes and local authorities, advocate on someone’s behalf, negotiate reduced rates for temporary care and generally advise people on all their rights and entitlements.

Gibson also said that Phoenix Group had taken the radical step of partnering with the Department of Work and Pensions in Scotland on a programme to help older people who had been out of work for some time back into work through matching their skills with jobs and supporting them, for instance, with their work profiles on LinkedIn. They will repeat the programme next year.

From career conversations to older apprenticeships in tech

David Whitson-Black, Group Head of Talent Development at accountancy firm Azets, focused on retention and understanding what motivates different people through promoting open conversations. He spoke of how Azets has changed its performance reviews so they are not just appraisals but career conversations with more open questions that focus on people’s learning and development needs whatever their age. Line managers have been trained to open up the process.

Nicky Elford, Head of Colleague Propositions and Policy at Lloyds Banking Group, said 30% of Lloyds’ workforce are over 50. Lloyds has been running a pilot to upskill people so they can change career direction at any point and no matter what work pattern they do. She mentioned a risk manager who became a data scientist in his 50s. “It changed his work and his home life. He is not as grumpy at home and he loves his job,” she said.

Lloyds has also added an extra layer to their employee network groups – advisory panels who can challenge managers on every change in policy that is put forward. There is one on different life stages.

They have created the Your Future Your Way initiative which promotes open conversations about future plans. There is a single point where people can go to find out what is on offer for older workers, including coaching, menopause support, cancer support and more. Line managers are trained to have conversations about future plans.

In the next months Lloyds is looking at launching apprenticeships for over 50s in technology and data analysis and at phased retirements, including phasing of responsibilities as well as hours. From January every role will be advertised as open to a job share. It is also considering a returners programme for older workers who have taken a career break.

Creative approaches to retention

Steve Butler, Chief Executive at Punter Southall Aspire, a national retirement savings business, said his organisation didn’t have the resources of some of the big corporates, but is dedicated to retaining older workers and not losing their experience. He said they had persuaded a person who was considering early retirement to take a three-month sabbatical to trial what it would feel like. He came back saying he was “bored brainless” being at home. “He came back a different employee. Very energised,” said Butler. Three years later he was thinking of retirement again and again he was persuaded to stay because the company redesigned his job, moving him to a coaching and mentoring and ambassadorial role on three days a week in order to retain his knowledge and experience.

Butler spoke of another employees who was in a client-facing role that made it difficult to work reduced hours. They were moved to a business adviser role which could be done on reduced hours and were given 50 days holiday a year. Butler says it is about listening and talking to people and finding the right solution.

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National Older Workers Week 2023 Employer event recordings

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