Survey calls on employers to tackle ageist attitudes at work

A new survey shows that many older workers are pessimistic about the next few months, given ageist attitudes at work.

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Older workers are feeling more negative than positive about the next months, according to a new survey.

The survey of just under one thousand people aged 45 and over, was undertaken between 11th-15th January 2021 by No Desire To Retire.

Some 85% said they were feeling neutral or negative, 35% of whom felt much more negative.​

The main reason was the impact of Covid on the jobs landscape – resulting in mass unemployment and the market being “flooded with applicants chasing a scarce number of vacancies” – and a general hiring freeze as a result of the uncertain economic outlook.  A large majority highlighted that their age – already an issue pre-Covid – had been “greatly exaggerated” as a prevalent barrier to finding work in the face of ever-increasing competition from “younger and cheaper” jobseekers, “with 40 years to go before they retire, [rather] than someone who has only two years left”. A number commented that they had applied for lower level jobs, but were still unsuccessful due to their age. As a result, around a third of those looking for work had decided to put their search on hold or had given up altogether.

Other reasons given included general health and mental health issues, precluding them from commuting and/ or going into an office environment. While remote working presented them with options, they felt they were overlooked or “automatically ruled out” for these roles due to stereotypes of older people being “IT illiterate” or “tech luddites”.

Nevertheless, one in six older workers said they felt comparatively more positive about the next six months, around two fifths of whom felt much more positive with the Covid vaccine given as the most common reason.

Regionally, the top three areas with the most negative outlook were the South West, London and Wales; while those with the most positive outlook were Yorkshire & The Humber, Scotland and the North West.​

When asked what would help older workers’ job prospects generally, the most popular suggestion was the provision of more formalised opportunities to reskill: over half of the respondents (53%) were keen to undertake training courses, with four in 10 favouring on-the-job learning by way of, for example, a paid mature internship or returnship or “paid volunteer work to enable career changers to get experience in the new context”. Many felt most training support was aimed at young people.

Meanwhile, just under a third of those surveyed (30%) said they were interested in having a career coach and/or a undergoing a ‘Mid-Life Review’ – with many recognising the need to change roles or pivot into a new industry as a result of the pandemic.

Elsewhere, there were calls for employers to focus on age as a core part of their diversity and inclusion agenda, on a par with gender and ethnicity, with just over a third of respondents (35%) supporting the introduction of quotas for older workers. A minority also recommended strengthening age discrimination legislation.

However, the report found the overriding consensus was that the key lay with getting employers to recognise and understand the contribution that older workers could make to their business – and their bottom line. To this end they urged government and/ or influential business groups to create communications campaigns promoting the benefits of an age-diverse workforce with incentives to encourage recruitment “such as NI/tax relief” and “PR and subsidies”.

Natasha Oppenheim, CEO of No Desire To Retire, called on employers to ensure their HR and Diversity & Inclusion policies address, and are effective in practically tackling, ageism in their workplace and recognise “the myriad benefits older workers bring to the multigenerational workforce”.​

She added: “The ageing talent pool should be embraced as an opportunity. The over 50s collectively represent a huge untapped asset of millions of years’ worth of accrued experience, expertise; and an abundance of skills and qualities needed to help business achieve some form of Covid-related economic recovery such as resilience, adaptability, time-critical problem-solving, and mentoring. Numerous studies also show older workers also consistently outperform on soft-skill metrics such as communication, negotiation and conflict resolution, and team working.

“It is time to realise the value of this asset for the UK economy – and in turn our society – to help us build back stronger.”

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