Workingwise.co.uk’s annual survey was published for National Older Workers Week and...read more
Workingwise.co.uk’s first event for National Older Workers Week included leaders and senior staff from City & Guilds, Phoenix Insights, and Carers UK.
Workingwise.co.uk held its first event for National Older Workers Week on Monday, hosting a panel discussion that included leaders and senior staff from City & Guilds, Phoenix Insights and Carers UK.
The event began with an overview of workingwise.co.uk’s annual survey of older workers, the results of which were also published on Monday. The survey found that almost half (46%) of older workers say they will have to work longer than they planned, due to the cost-of-living crisis. Almost a tenth (9%) of workers who have already stopped working will have to “unretire” to make ends meet.
The panellists then discussed how employers could better support older workers, many of whom want to stay in the workforce or return to the workforce after a break. They also discussed how this could hugely benefit employers as they struggle with labour shortages.
“They are a really untapped talent pool,” Nicola Pattimore, chief people and transformation officer at City & Guilds who sponsored the event, said of older workers. She stressed that employers must keep investing in training for older workers, who are often highly experienced but who also need to keep updating their skills.
Pattimore explained that the “shelf-life of a skill” is around five years and all workers need training at regular intervals delivered in flexible ways. She also added that this type of regular training and development boosted employees’ confidence, and that companies should try not to cut their training budgets due to the recession. She stated that cutting engagement surveys by age and doing focus groups would help employers to understand older workers’ experience and needs better, adding that Covid had had a particular impact on that age group which needed to be addressed.
Pattimore also focused on the issue of job shares, saying more flexible working benefits everyone. She suggested employers look at new innovative ways to do job shares, such as pairing up a more experienced worker with someone who was perhaps more physically able, and focusing more on the skills needed to do a job and retraining/redeploying people in line with those needs. City & Guilds is working on how to build skills bridges between different sectors which are facing workforce shortages.
“This is becoming less and less ignorable,” Patrick Thomson, head of research, analysis and policy at Phoenix Insights, said of the need to help older workers stay in the workforce. UK businesses have been struggling with worker shortages over the past two years, partly due to high numbers of people over 50 leaving the workforce.
Thomson said there is a strong business case to remove ageism in recruitment and in workplaces and that policymakers were starting to talk about it, given the UK is performing worse than many other countries in relation to older workers, particularly post Covid – almost half (45%) of workingwise.co.uk’s survey respondents said they had left out or altered their ages on their CVs to get around ageism. Thomson said there were some beacons of hope on this front, with events such as National Older Workers Week helping to raise awareness. He also pointed to changes of tone at some large companies, such as the Body Shop moving away from “anti-ageing” branding for its products.
Thomson suggested that the government could invest more in services that help older workers by reinvesting the money that is saved as and when the state pension age is raised in employment support, health support, midlife MOTs and lifelong learning. This would create a more joined up approach.
Thomson added that there is a need to do more to foreground examples of career transitions across sectors, for instance, NOW Teach’s focus on getting older workers into teaching.
“If you ask people to choose between work and someone they love, work will always be the thing that loses out,” said Caroline Waters OBE, vice president at Carers UK. A lot of older people leave the workforce altogether due to caring responsibilities, but they can still accommodate both areas of their lives if employers can offer flexibility.
Waters explained that if employers offer flexible, remote and part-time working, then many carers can keep working. She stressed that employers also need to break down a common workplace “hierarchy”, whereby full-time staff are seen as more important than part-time staff. Many part-time staff are operating below their potential, she added, because there is a lack of senior part-time jobs.
Another issue that often gets ignored is job design, said Waters, adding that the reasons people want to leave the workforce are often negative. There is little wonder, she stated, that people want to step back from the kind of high-intensity, ‘extreme jobs’ that many now do. Midlife MOTs could play a role in job evaluations and job design, she stated.
Waters also said that employers 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, adding that education about transition skills needs to start from an early age.
She raised other points about the need for more sabbaticals which she said could extend people’s working lives, saying a ‘zig zag’ pattern of working could be more sustainable than a linear path which often leads to burn out.
Waters also pointed out the impact on the economy of a lack of an adequate soft infrastructure, including childcare, elder care and training. She added that employers should lobby the government about the UK’s lack of care infrastructure, as this was keeping carers from working at a time when businesses desperately need workers. There are huge pressures on carers, with “care deserts” meaning that there are next to no services in some postcodes, she said.
On healthcare, she stated that employers need to focus first on prevention of long-term health issues by addressing poor practice; develop better absence policies and support; look at reintegration after time off, including reasonable adjustments and redeployment; and review their practices to track patterns of health issues, such as musculoskeletal injuries.
Thank you to all our sponsors and supporters during National Older Workers Week; Phoenix Group, Aggregate Industries, David Lloyd Clubs, City & Guilds, Zurich, Allen & Overy, NHS Professionals, McDonald’s, Institute of Employability Professionals and the Centre for Ageing Better.