How should employers adapt to an older workforce?

A new book looks at how employers and others should adapt to an ageing workforce and one which is likely to retire later – or to work beyond retirement.

Older man and younger woman looking at a computer


Despite the coronavirus and the threat of economic recession, the long-term trend towards greater longevity and skills shortages in an increasingly disrupted workplace persists.

Coronavirus only adds to the disruption and provides an extra spur to reimagine how we work. There is a new book focused on the need for social ingenuity – the need to question norms, create new ways of living, build deeper insights, experiment and explore.

The New Long Life by economist Andrew J Scott and psychologist Lynda Gratton looks at the questions thrown up in relation to society and our place in it and examines what might be required of education, government and business.

In a chapter on the corporate agenda, it addresses what companies can do to prepare for an older workforce and multi-generational future. It calls for the creation of multiple points of entry rather than the traditional three-stage model based on entry after school and university, promotion in the middle years and retirement.

The authors say that employers are already increasing entry points in terms of their approach to women returners, women who have taken time out of their careers to look after children, and are beginning to broaden their approach to people who have taken career breaks for other reasons.

Older workforce means changes to retirement approaches

Another important aspect of our ageing society is the need for – and ability of – people to work longer. This will mean employers need to change their approach to retirement, for instance, preparing older workers for a longer working life with different options and enabling them to stay on, perhaps flexibly, after the official retirement age.

The authors say work life balance issues will become more important as many older workers will have caring responsibilities; policies supporting fathers will be more important as family responsibilities become more shared and flexible working will be key.

Other important aspects of an older workforce will include the need to support lifelong learning so people of all ages keep up to date with the changing skills they will need. Allied to all of this will be the need to combat ageism. The authors highlight how research shows the benefits of older managers, given they are more oriented towards collaboration and have the kind of human skills that the future workforce will require.

They also call for a broadening of the concept of pension provision as the traditional pension becomes increasingly expensive because of the ageing workforce. They call for the development instead of other less tangible assets, including health, skills and people’s capacity to navigate transitions. That might include mid-career breaks, the opportunity to take paid external training courses or having the ability to off ramp and on ramp careers due to personal circumstances.

The authors conclude: “All of us are having to redesign life and our society, and we need to ensure that generations can come together to sculpt a more human future.”

*The New Long Life: a framework for flourishing in a changing world is published by Bloomsbury, price £20.

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