From words to action: NOWW’s final session

The final event of this year’s National Older Workers Week was a webinar focused on moving from understanding the challenges facing older workers to taking action to address them.

Older man working in a call centre with a headset on smiling


How do we move from talking about older workers to action to addressing the challenges they face? The last event in National Older Workers Week [NOWW] gave some ideas on where to go next.

Gillian Nissim, founder of, began by giving a recap of the week.  She said NOWW had highlighted the challenges older workers face as jobseekers and employees. It had heard from employers about how they are shaping policies and practice that enable older workers to feel engaged and fully included in their workplaces. There was also a session on what older workers can do to negotiate the various hurdles they might face in negotiating systems that seem to exclude them. 

The final event launched’s age diversity toolkit which aims to give ideas and examples of what some of the most progressive employers are doing in this area.

Nissim picked out some of the most insightful and inspiring ideas that had emerged during the week:

  • The need to invest more in helping younger workers understand what they need to know to ensure their mental, physical and financial wellbeing in older age
  • A suggestion that job shares could include pairing up a more experienced worker with someone who was perhaps more physically able
  • The need for more focus on job design so that people don’t burn out
  • A recognition of the value of squiggly careers – careers that take into account the curve balls that life throws you; the importance of regular career breaks in a longer work life; and a need to reform the application process to reflect that career breaks should not be a barrier to fulfilling jobs 
  • The need to build skills bridges between different sectors which are facing workforce shortages.
  • The need to do more to foreground examples of career transitions across sectors, for instance, NOW Teach’s focus on getting older workers into teaching.
  • A recognition that if employers join forces they can be a powerful force for change when it comes to the importance of a care infrastructure for sustainable employment.

She said: “We know that this is an issue that needs to be grasped, that the urgency of addressing demographic change is clear and that now is the time to act.” 

Culture change

The panel spoke of the different forms that action could take, from culture change, to data analysis to employer action.

Andrew Armes, director of Emei Consulting, spoke about the importance of a culture-first approach. He said Emei was created in response to the “mechanics of modern living” which he said resulted in us living more fractured and diverse lives. The aim is to reconnect people with a sense of purpose for a happier, kinder society through developing a more empathetic workplace. He said more and more people have an underlying need to feel that what they do in their lives has a purpose and that this sense has accelerated over recent years. He added that there is a natural correlation between a sense of connection between employee and employer values that results in employees putting more energy into their work.

Emei tackles this from a neuroscientific and behavioural perspective to help employers look at the workplace culture they want to achieve. They start by doing an audit of what employees think about their work now, identifying where improvements can be made. Armes said Emei tends to work with companies whose leaders are committed to this kind of culture change. “Often leaders talk about diversity and inclusion, but you find that they are not really committed or they think it is something for everyone else to do. We need to be sure that the leadership is committed to change if we want to deliver a more connected, inclusive culture,” he stated.

Armes said this sense of fracture and disconnection is something everyone experiences on an individual level and tackling that requires everyone to look inside themselves if they want to create sustainable change. It is possible to achieve change without getting senior leadership buy-in, but it is more difficult, said Armes, for instance, by recruiting people for their self awareness and knowledge about their own talents. He added that there is a lot of fear and ego at the senior leadership level about unlearning some of the traditional leadership styles and becoming more vulnerable so they can lead in a more empathetic way.

The importance of data

Daniel Lucy, Principal Consultant at the Institute for Employment Studies, said data can support culture. He singled out what can be done now to address the recruitment and retention crisis and make work more inclusive of older workers so they don’t continue to drop out of the workforce because work doesn’t suit their needs; what can be done over the next two to three years to stop employers losing the knowledge and expertise of older workers who are leaving; and what can be done in the longer term in the face of moves towards a smaller labour force, longer working lives and greater automation.

dan lucy headshotLucy said that many older workers are now dropping out because work is not good for their health – both physically and mentally. The ONS shows a significant number would come back if work was more flexible and healthy.  He added that employers need to look both at subjective data – how older workers feel about work – and objective data about how they fare when it comes to recruitment, participation in training [not just for compliance reasons but also for upskilling] and retention. 

In the medium term he said employers need to identify the possible areas of the business where they are losing or in danger of losing valuable skills and knowledge.  They need to ask what they can do to persuade people to work for longer to enable knowledge transfer, for instance, reducing workload, allowing people to work part time, providing health support or moving them to a different role which is physically less demanding.

In the longer term, he said older workers were likely to be significantly affected by growing automation, with many of the jobs they tend to do changing radically or disappearing by 2030.  Employers need to understand how their business will change and which occupations will be most affected in order to upskill the people who are most at risk. Many managers feel uncomfortable having conversations about the future with older workers and older workers often fear bringing up the subject too so this process could enable better conversations with older workers about their working lives, said Lucy.

Towards a more inclusive workforce

Tamar Hughes, Group Head of Talent, Development and Inclusion at Phoenix Group, said Phoenix Group, which sponsored NOWW, wants to make a difference when it comes to older workers and to building a more inclusive workforce. They also adopt a data-driven approach, using employee surveys. They found that over 45s are more likely to work part time than under 35s and that over 45s outnumber younger workers, but that there is a big drop-off after 55.

Tamar HughesThey also found that caring responsibilities increase with age and that women are more likely to have them than men and that carers are twice as likely to work part time as other workers.

In terms of action they have audited their processes, including recruitment, and looked at the language and imagery of job adverts, where they advertise jobs, how they promote learning and development on their website and at the provision of employee resource groups for younger workers and for those focused on later life working. They have removed language that seems to be targeting younger people and come up with a template for all their jobs that is clear about their commitment to diversity and inclusion. They also share stories of older workers, have made the right to request flexible working a day one right and have put in place a range of support for carers as well as advertising on job sites that target older workers.

Hughes said there was still more work to do, for instance, to promote part-time work and to amplify the health support they offer. They are piloting midlife MOTs and analysing the outcomes of these as well as promoting their learning opportunities to all new recruits and looking at apprenticeships for older workers. They also plan to partner with Squiggly Careers.

“We want Phoenix to be a place where people belong,” said Hughes. 

Mandy Garner, editor of, spoke about’s new free employer toolkit and about how employers can also sign up to its Top Employer Charter which commits them to fully embracing the business case for employing older workers.

Taking action

To sum up, the speakers were asked for their main tips. Armes said there was opportunity in engaging with the complexity of the issues raised by older workers’ experience in the workplace and that rather than be overwhelmed by all that there is to do, employers should reach out to experts for support. Lucy said it was a business necessity to address this issue and that organisations who plan ahead will be in a better position. Hughes highlighted the need for action now, for testing and learning and for sharing best practice. Nissim said it was vital that people left with a list of realistic, tangible actions. 

She stated: “This issue will not go away; it cannot be continually kicked into the long grass. We’ve seen what that has meant for our care infrastructure. We need to grasp this now and ensure all of our workforce feels engaged and valued for all that they have to offer.”

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