The Financial Services Compensation Scheme has been a trailblazer for the way it overtly reaches out to older workers and says the business benefits are clear.
It is vital that employers explicitly say they want to attract older workers, particularly in the current labour market where confidence may be low after redundancy, says David Blackburn, Chief People Officer at the Financial Services Compensation Scheme.
The FSCS has been one of the early supporters of age diversity campaigns. They took part in Business in the Community’s one million older workers campaign, launched following a 2015 report which showed how many older workers had dropped out of the workforce due to caring and health issues and how the declining birth rate meant more and more workers were concentrated in the over 50s age group. “It was a huge pool of talent that we were missing,” says Blackburn. “It was a bit of a road to Damascus moment for me.”
The FSCS has targets for recruiting older workers, but this year the number of older workers being recruited has fallen significantly to just 16%. Blackburn thinks may in part be due to the uncertain work climate and to older workers taking redundancy and using the Covid time to build side hustles. He argues that employers need to be overt in wanting older workers in a climate where redundancy can easily turn into long-term unemployment as confidence slips.
The FSCS has been an age-friendly employer for some time, promoting older role models in its adverts and promotional material and checking the language of job adverts for age bias. It also routinely conducts midlife career conversations. Blackburn recalls one man telling him in one of these conversations that he thought he would never get another permanent job and how getting one at FSCS had been life changing. “You have to be really upfront that you want older workers and that you recognise their contribution in order to dispel the dialogue some people have in their heads,” he says.
For Blackburn intergenerational teams are vital – he talks about neurodiversity not just being about autism, but about different ways of thinking about problems. The FSCS’ employees are aged from 17 to 73. Diversity, says Blackburn, is vital for workplaces because it means people’s assumptions are constantly challenged. He says older workers have important skills in addition to their specialist ones, including emotional intelligence, empathy and life experience. “The Covid crisis has brought a debate about the skills we value and an emphasis on listening, engagement and trust,” says Blackburn. The FSCS’ research shows 90% of its staff trust the decisions of their leaders.
The organisation has focused on recruitment, retention and retraining of older workers over the last years, but central to that is workplace culture. That includes flexible working and the FSCS has used the break between the two Covid lockdowns to bring in a new flexible way of working.
FSCS staff, who are classed as key workers, had been mostly homeworking since the first lockdown. The organisation had long promoted flexible working and every job has been fully flexible for the last two years, but many people had not made the most of that flexibility. For instance, people only tended to use working from home for specific things.
In August, as the first lockdown eased, the FSCS piloted its build back better approach to flexible working over a two-week period. They got rid of their core hours of 10am-4pm and introduced a system whereby people could flex their hours between 7am and 7pm. This was to avoid people working into the small hours and not getting enough rest. “We recognised that people didn’t just want flexibility in where they worked, but also they wanted flexibility within the working day,” says Blackburn. The mantra of the new working pattern is “own your day” and the emphasis is on well being, communications and the environment. The new policy is deliberately kept simple and fits on a single page.
The FSCS also brought in a 40/40 rule whereby only 40% of people can be in the office 40% of the time. That was before the second lockdown and followed a Covid secure assessment of how many people could safely fit in the building at any given time.
The approach was led by employees and based on regular pulse surveys aimed at finding out how people felt about their working lives during Covid, including their levels of anxiety about coming back to the office. These showed high levels of anxiety, but not about the office itself. The main concern was the commute to the office. Those keenest to come back to the office were younger workers who didn’t have the same room in their homes to work and missed the social side of work. Many wanted to come in only part of the week. While one day a week was the favoured option at the time, it was considered that in the long term when Covid has abated this might rise to two to three days and that this was useful to build a sense of shared culture, which is how the 40% figure was arrived at.
Blackburn says he is a big advocate of running pilots to prove a new initiative works. He thinks some employers avoid embedding a flexible working culture because they think it will be too hard, but his view is that if you reduce it to a team by team level and pilot it so you can address any challenges it is not so difficult.
He adds that the last few months have completely challenged some of the fundamental ideas people have had about work. For instance, rather than being stuck in meetings, being in the office means freeing up Blackburn’s diary so he can wander around the building talking to people. “The whole experience has made us question what the office is for, be that training, meetings, collaboration or re-energising,” he says. “People want choice so we have given them a framework so they can choose,” he adds.
In a world of Covid which has underlined the need for trust and good communications, he says employers need to step up. Research shows candidates think employers’ values are increasingly important as are flexible working, diversity and inclusion and a sense of making a difference. For Blackburn, Covid is going to widen the gap between good and not so good employers, between those employers like FSCS which have pulled out all the stops to engage with staff during the pandemic – in FSCS’ case through virtual cookery, yoga and exercise classes among others and showing they are listening and taking action – provided a clear vision of future ways of working, put people at the centre of how they work and treated them like adults. “At times of crisis and uncertainty, what people wants is a degree of certainty,” he says.