A panel discussion on Tuesday for National Older Workers Week looked at best practice in creating age-friendly workplaces.
How can older workers thrive in the workplace? An event on Tuesday for the first National Older Workers Week focused on good practice and practical ways forward as a workingwise.co.uk survey showed a widespread perception of ageism in the recruitment process in particular, a lack of training and problems faced by older workers struggling to get back into the workforce.
Judith Wardell, a midlife and retirement coach and founder of Time of your life, kicked off the event talking about how midlife MOTs give employees the opportunity to take stock at a time when they can be subject to multiple demands – children, elderly parents, the menopause and other issues. It is often the time when people get a little stuck, she said.
MOTs look at what a person’s skills might be – people have often lost sight of their skillset, she said – and what motivates them. Many older workers are keen to do a job that is more purposeful and which develops them as a person. MOTs can help people to build more confidence in themselves in the face of negative ageist stereotypes. “They give people a boost,” said Wardell. “They re-energise people.”
They also enable people to develop a plan for the future and share it with their employer. They need to involve a two-way conversation and to provide a safe space to explore issues which they could not normally do in an appraisal-style setting.
David Blackburn, Chief People Officer at the Financial Services Compensation Scheme, said the FSCS has been having midlife conversations since 2016, but it is not enough to have the conversations. You have to engage, listen and act. “It is the action that builds trust and unlocks the potential,” he said.
FSCS were early backers of the government’s campaign to get one million more older people into work by 2022. Blackburn said in FSCS’s case their workforce needs to reflect the people they serve and that speaking to someone who understands the stage of life they are at is important for customers. FSCS has three targets on older workers: at least 10% of its pipeline into the organisation has to be workers who are over 50; it has a 25% target for retention of older workers; and it has one event tailored to older workers a year.
The first time they did midlife MOTs, they found that most people were not looking to retire, but wanted to learn new skills or apply the skills they have in a different way. Quite senior people wanted to carry on, but to do less and to do something of value. Blackburn said employers need to think more about how to address these issues in order to retain people. He cited a man who retired from another organisation 15 years ago from a very senior job, but wanted to stay engaged. He started on a six-week project and has been at FSCS ever since on a zero-hours contract and has been able to do fulfilling work, such as contributing to legislation change.
For the FSCS, midlife MOTs are part of a range of policies that make their organisation age friendly. That includes their flexible first policy [a day one right to work flexibly], financial planning advice for early, mid and late career, free annual health checks, pre-retirement planning, an intergenerational mental health first aid team, menopause and carer support, will writing help and work with Brave Starts on career transition. Older workers are some of the most engaged in the organisation as a result and that engagement helped the FSCS towards its best ever operational performance during the pandemic, said Blackburn.
He added that it is important for employers to specifically say that they are age friendly, to demonstrate that through attendance at events such as National Older Workers Week ones and to understand what is important to their workforce or to their potential workforce. That includes having explicit conversations with recruitment partners about this.
Karen Orr, Director of People and Engagement at QA, sponsor of National Older Workers Week, spoke about their work on the menopause. A colleague had started the ball rolling which led to a webinar where people from across the organisation could share their experiences and an interest group on Teams. Membership of the group had tripled by the end of the webinar. QA put a guide together to help people, including managers, understand the impact of the menopause and andropause and initiate wellbeing conversations on the subject. Blackburn said the FSCS had held education and sharing sessions which were very intergenerational and involved men and women.
Sana Ahmed, Senior People Partner, spoke about QA’s hybrid working policy and how, like the menopause, it linked to the organisation’s diveristy and inclusion agenda. QA’s policy came out of a survey of its workers and Ahmed said there is a clear link between having more control and wellbeing, for instance, enabling a smoother path to retirement. Mass hybrid working is an experiment, she said, and QA realised that they may not get it right first time. It is backed by policies, guides and manager training on having hybrid working conversations and not making assumptions. Blackburn also spoke about FSCS’s approach to hybrid working and how that had evolved.
There was a discussion about how flexible working could work for those not doing desk-based work. Blackburn said it was more challenging, but there are ways to introduce flexibility, citing the NHS’s work on this. Wardell warned against assuming older workers want more flexibility and why they might want it. It may often be because they do not feel fulfilled at work, she said, calling for a broader conversation about work. She also talked about the need to adapt the workplace so that people can work longer and not to assume health issues for older workers.
Louise Stibbs, Apprenticeship Development Officer at Clarion Housing Group, spoke about how apprenticeships can benefit older workers. Clarion has expanded the number of apprentices it has at all different levels, regardless of age. Apprenticeships also benefit other members of staff who can train new recruits and give back by passing on their knowledge, said Stibbs. Support for apprentices is vital, she added.
Stibbs said the traditional view is that apprentices are starting their careers. This is not the case. She added that Clarion advocates the National Living Wage in recognition that older workers in particular may find it hard to manage on national apprenticeship rates.
There was a general discussion about ageist language and internalised ageism. Wardell said everyone had to check their language and negative assumptions about older people. Retirement, a term she doesn’t like, is just another stage in life, she said and is not the end of life. Many people are not ready to stop; some may do unpaid work and this should be equally valued.
Wardell works with people to address internalised ageism and draw out their transferable skills. She used the TUC’s Unionlearn skills cards to prompt conversations about skills. Just asking people does not work, she said, because they often do not know the answer. Asked where individuals could look for help if their employer doesn’t offer midlife MOTs, she mentioned the University of the Third Age and local organisations, but warned to steer clear of events or courses that are not interactive. Midlife MOTs are about the individual reflecting on their lives and who they are. She offers midlife MOTs and offers group work, one to one support and weekend retreats as different people prefer different ways of talking about the issues.
The panelists were asked for one takeaway. Wardell said to challenge the language of ageing. Stibbs said to get away from the idea that learning is just for younger people – we are always learning, she said. Ahmed said to be mindful of unconscious bias against hybrid workers and Orr talked about the need to think inclusively. Blackburn highlighted the importance of using data to understand your workforce and where older workers are in the workforce and use that to shape a strategy to support them.
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