Lucie Mitchell investigates how employers can best approach conversations about changes to a role if a person needs them as they get older in order to retain their knowledge and experience.
Many older workers are remaining in the workplace for longer; and with skills shortages impacting many industries, it makes absolute sense for employers to ensure they don’t risk losing key knowledge and experience and that they meet the needs of their older workforce.
However, just because some older employees want to continue working, it doesn’t mean they can continue in the same role or at the same pace each week. Many over 50s have, for example, health conditions or caring responsibilities and are looking to reduce the physical demands of the job or work in a different way than before, either by making simple adjustments to enable them to stay in work, or by being redeployed into a less physically demanding role.
“There are some jobs that some people may not be able to continue to perform for physical reasons, but that doesn’t mean they are redundant,” says Liz Sebag-Montefiore, career coach and director of 10Eighty. “Retraining and upskilling can offer new avenues of work. When the physical demands of a job become an issue, then it’s time for a career review to assess training and redeployment options, but employers should have prepared for this well in advance if the worker is a long-term employee.”
Emily Andrews, deputy director for work at the Centre for Ageing Better, remarks that redeployment is successfully used in many different industries – particularly those facing skills shortages – to keep valuable knowledge and expertise within an organisation.
“Done well, it is a way of demonstrating how much you value a staff member and want to make the most of the assets they bring,” she says. “Redeployment conversations will be successful if they are part of an ongoing discussion between employee and manager about what their strengths, aspirations and needs are. Investing in skills for all workers means that, even if their circumstances change, employees are suitably prepared to move into another role if needed.”
However, according to a 2021 report by City & Guilds Group, only 14 per cent of businesses would consider recruiting or retraining older workers or retirees to tackle skills shortages. Plus, recent research by the Centre for Ageing Better shows that workers aged 50 and over are the least likely of all the age groups to receive job-related training.
“It’s not smart to discount loyal, experienced workers who know your organisation, especially if they are committed and engaged,” warns Sebag-Montefiore. “Plan ahead with due regard for their experience, aptitude and skills, attitudes, and health and wellbeing.”
It is also crucial that any redeployment situation is handled sensitively, to avoid singling out older employees. “Supporting employees in mid-life to make proactive choices about how they want to work as they age, through initiatives such as the mid-life MOT, is vital in affording people the most suitable, fulfilling and appropriate types of work,” comments Andrews.
Mid-life MOTs play an essential part in enabling more positive outcomes, adds Judith Wardell, founder of Time of Your Life. “Mid-life MOTs give individuals valuable time to reflect and consider their needs and options and to deal with the emotions that they will feel as they transition from one role to another. They are able to identify their skills and strengths and explore how these skills can be transferred to different contexts. Both individuals and the organisation can sometimes discover hidden talents once the boundaries of the traditional job role are removed. It’s not about the organisation finding them another role; it should be about sharing ideas about how people can be employed in a way that offers benefits to both sides.”
When looking at potential redeployment opportunities, it is often worth thinking creatively to help find the best possible solution for all.
“Employers need to ensure they look beyond the context of the environment the individual has worked and dig deep into the skills they bring,” says Sarah Hernon, principal consultant at Right Management UK. “They must consider the pace of work the individual is now looking for and find opportunities where they will be motivated and aligned.”
Employers must also consider the legal issues when looking to redeploy older workers, to avoid age discrimination claims. Amanda Lennon, employment partner at law firm Spencer West, advises that, unless the employee specifically requests a change in job, it is only appropriate to redeploy them if there is a medical or physical reason why they can’t do their current job.
“This should be handled sensitively and follow any procedure laid down in the employer’s capability policy,” she says. “In my experience, some employers are making incorrect assumptions about what an employee can and cannot do based on their age. This is a risky approach and could open you up to claims for age discrimination. Everyone is an individual and should be treated as such.”
Wardell concludes: “The redeployment of older workers should be seen as a positive opportunity and not just a convenient way to solve a difficult problem. Organisations can really benefit from retaining key knowledge and skills and using these in a different way; and older workers should be able to enjoy a meaningful and fulfilling experience at the end of their career and working life.”