Lucie Mitchell reports on best practice in age-friendly recruitment.
With people living longer and the workforce getting older, it’s vital that employers ensure their hiring practices are age-friendly to enable them to harness the skills and experience offered by older workers and stay ahead of the competition.
Official figures show that almost a third of the workforce is over 50 years old – a figure set to rise in the coming years, with a report by Mercer predicting there will be a million more people over the age of 50 in the workplace by 2025.
“Employers who don’t adjust to meet the needs of the ageing workforce are likely to face skills shortages,” warns Luke Price, evidence manager at the Centre for Ageing Better. “We’re currently failing to make the most of the skills and experience of older workers as there are now more than 800,000 people in the UK aged 50 to 65 who want to be working but aren’t.”
Yvonne Sonsino, partner and global co-leader next stage at Mercer, says that the only labour pool in the UK that is growing is the over 50s. “As with many developed countries, shrinking birth rates and increasing longevity are creating labour pool pressures never seen before in history,” she remarks. “Older workers – who are now more active, educated and healthier than ever – are a great pool of talent to tap into.”
Research by the Centre for Ageing Better found that nearly half of over 50s felt their age would disadvantage them when applying for a job. It’s therefore crucial that employers engage with older applicants during the hiring process.
There are a number of approaches that employers can take to specifically attract and recruit older workers. First, think about the language used in job adverts and descriptions; and avoid wording that could discourage older jobseekers from applying for the role.
“References such as ‘young’, ‘energetic’ or ‘recently qualified’ are best avoided,” advises Sonsino. “If in doubt, have your job adverts and job descriptions reviewed by a good employment lawyer.”
Price adds that thoughtfully-written job adverts go a long way towards encouraging a more diverse age range in applicants. “Employers should seek to use age-neutral language and images in adverts, and be aware that the language we use can be loaded with messaging that unconsciously draws on stereotypes about older or younger workers.”
Increasingly more employers are turning to technology when recruiting, to help create an age-diverse candidate pool and aid decision-making. For instance, algorithms can be used to remove age-identifying information from an application.
Yet while this kind of technology can help to remove human bias when making a hiring decision, it’s important to be aware of its limitations too. “There is some evidence that algorithms and specialised software can be just as biased as humans in filtering applications,” warns Price. “Employers should therefore carefully consider what is being assessed and overlooked by filtering software, and how bias might be entering into the process of analysis.”
Employers such as Aviva, Home Instead Senior Care and Barclays are leading the way in adopting recruitment strategies that specifically target older workers.
Aviva currently has five generations in the workplace and the over 45s are the fastest growing employee population by age.
“All our marketing is designed to appeal to all age groups, and this is reflective across our careers site,” explains Jonny Briggs, global head of talent acquisition and inclusion at Aviva. “Where appropriate, we use specialised job boards and we have local arrangements in place with job centres to run specific sessions for their older workers around CV writing, interview and applications. We also have inclusion messages on all of our adverts that show our commitment to older workers, including the potential for flexible working.”
It’s also important to consider the employment package when implementing an age-friendly recruitment campaign. Sonsino recommends employers offer attractive, ‘age-appropriate’ benefits and rewards.
“So often, employers create a one-size-fits-all package and this just isn’t right, as we have multigenerational workforces and multistage lifecycles, where second careers and later life learning are typical. Smart employers are beginning to explore the right perks that will attract and retain this worker population. Flexibility is a key one; don’t be afraid to be creative with job share and part-time options.”
Finally, employers must create a truly multigenerational, inclusive culture where employees respect each others’ ages and skill sets, she adds. “No-one wants to join an organisation where they will feel vulnerable because of their age, so this inclusivity has to cut deep. Have positive case studies to share with new hires to show how older workers can thrive and develop in your organisation.”