Workingwise.co.uk’s annual survey was published last week and shows that a high number...read more
Ahead of National Older Workers Week this month, workingwise.co.uk outlines why we need to improve how we recruit and retain older workers.
In 2006, Gillian Nissim launched workingmums.co.uk to bring employers and working mums together to provide family-friendly, flexible work. Over the years workingmums.co.uk’s work extended from flexible working, maternity support and parental leave to embrace those returning to work after an extended career break, carers, the gender pension gap and the menopause. It began to focus on the different pinch points in our working lives and started looking at a multigenerational approach to working with flexible working, which so many want and need for such a variety of reasons, being at the heart.
It was clear that many of the issues that there were very particular challenges facing older workers, which had been neglected or brushed under the carpet, but that changing demographics combined with technology-driven transformation meant that there was not only a strong business and economic case for addressing this, but also a powerful social case in relation to equity and inclusion.
Our aim in launching workingwise.co.uk in 2019 was to bring those employers we had been working with over the years through workingmums.co.uk and workingdads.co.uk over to the age diversity agenda and to spread the word about what we have learned from what works for parents and how that can be applied to older workers in terms of demand for flexible working and personalised support. And by flexible working that means the full breadth of it, from flexi hours, remote working and hybrid working to annualised hours, compressed hours, job shares and part-time working and more.
When workingmums.co.uk started flexible working legislation was geared towards parents and carers only and was all about part-time working around caring responsibilities. It was also very much about individuals asking for flexible working and feeling in some way indebted to their employer for granting it. That approach has evolved over the years, although there are still remnants of it. Now, due in part to technological advances as well as changes in thinking, the focus is more on culture change and inclusion and more about flexible teams and the benefits not just for individuals but for business – Covid, for instance, showed that flexibility in the face of crisis can keep everything moving. It’s likely that the future is going to be characterised by turbulence and change, making flexibility ever more important.
Now we see campaigns not just for the right to request flexible working to be a day one right, but for flexible working to be the default, turning traditional ways of approaching working on its head and demanding that businesses make the case for why a job cannot be done flexibly – something pioneered by some of the employers we have worked with. The private member’s Bill on flexible working, which passed its second reading last week and is now in the committee stage, calls for a day one right to request flexible working [currently you have to be in your job for 26 weeks]. It also seeks to remove the requirement for employees to explain in their applications what effect they think their flexible working request will have on the employer; to allow employees to make two flexible working requests per 12 months instead of the one currently allowed; to require employers to consult with the employee before being allowed to refuse an application; and to reduce the deadline for an employer decision on flexible working requests from three months to two months. Things are moving forwards.
So how does that apply to older workers? workingwise.co.uk’s most recent annual survey shows that:
Many had encountered perceived ageism in the recruitment process. 55% said this with the application process being the most challenging, although 55% said they had encountered ageism in the interview process. 44% had altered their cv to disguise their age.
There was also concern about promotion prospects, lack of access to training and 79% felt their soft skills based on life experience were not valued.
We asked those who were not in work what might tempt them back – flexible working was the most popular option. 41% said this compared to 15% who said a higher salary.
That was last year’s survey results. This year’s, whose results we are launching imminently, looks at the impact of the cost of living crisis. Even so, work life balance still figures highly and shows the impact on confidence of long periods out of the workforce as well as interrogating what might attract workers back.
When workingmums.co.uk started, apart from a few pioneers, it was hard to get employers to listen to the business case for providing family friendly and flexible working. In some ways we are in much the same position with older workers – there are great pioneering organisations promoting age inclusion, but not enough of them. Many think they are doing more than they are – research generally shows a big gap between employee perceptions and employer perceptions. Many realise there is a problem, but seem unable or unwilling to take the steps toward action.
But we know the case for age diversity is very strong. We are at a time of labour shortages. People are living longer. They are needing and, in many cases, wanting to work longer. Yet many have been dropping out or are at risk of dropping out due to a variety of reasons, which can be damaging not just financially but in terms of their wellbeing. We know from our research that many who are not working now could be tempted back or need to return due to the cost of living crisis. That means employers need to understand better the barriers they face so that they can get back to work or, better, not drop out in the first place. What is needed is a greater focus on good quality part-time work, redeployment, retraining and career change tailored to a multigenerational workforce and more investment in the care infrastructure.
Our work highlights and shares best practice in age inclusion. Employers like the Financial Services Compensation Scheme have redrawn their work policy after Covid, with a focus on hybrid working and rethinking what the office is through their your day your way approach. They have introduced a 40/40 rule whereby 40% of staff are in the office 40% of the time and now have a loose working hours framework of 7am to 7pm instead of core hours. They are upfront about being an age-friendly, flexible employer.
Restaurant firm Corbyn & King are among a growing [but small] number of employers who promote apprenticeships to older employees, allowing them to retrain and change career path on the job. For instance, a former telecoms engineer who had no experience in hospitality came in on an apprenticeship at 48. Within three years he had gone from a commis chef to senior sous chef and then started training other apprentices.
Phoenix Group is not only promoting events and initiatives that tackle the broader issues of ageism at work, but is also tackling ageism internally while having an internal conversation about associated issues through their Ignite employee network which helps employees across the organisation learn about and discuss the later stages of working life and retirement. The network recognises that ageism affects us all and is about more than just initiatives – it’s about culture and mindset. Aviva has been a pioneer of the midlife MOT, a review for workers in their 40s and 50s that helps them take stock of their finances, skills and health and enables them to better prepare for their retirement and build financial resilience. The Government has recently announced that it is piloting midlife MOTs with several employers. The Independent Living Fund Scotland has very flexible, people-centred working practices and has pioneered approaches to supporting workers going through the menopause in Scotland.
You can read about what all these employers are doing on our site as we aim to share best practice to prompt change.
We see a growing number of jobs on our website from employers such as accountancy firm Azets and insurance firm Ageas who are keen to attract over 50s, including through apprenticeship for older people and returner roles. A recent Ageas job for a PI Claims Handler Apprenticeship role had a starting salary of £24k going up to £35K after 12 months.
McDonalds and John Lewis are also among employers who have launched big campaigns to attract older workers.
Workingwise.co.uk works with these and other employers to offer quality flexible jobs and promote best practice in employing older workers as well as to counter negative stereotypes through highlighting the stories of older workers in all their diversity. It calls employers to action through getting them to commit to a more age-diverse, flexible culture. And it brings employers together to talk about the challenges and the benefits of managing multigenerational teams through National Older Workers Week and to raise awareness of what good looks like. Our aim is to encourage employers through sharing best practice while also giving older workers the confidence to push for change.
In the last couple of years we have seen more organisations springing up to promote age diversity, a greater news focus on older workers especially in relation to economic inactivity and labour shortages and some government action, such as the funding of midlife MOTs for older jobseekers. There is still a lot more to do, with ensuring workers and employers get the most from flexible working in the wake of Covid, rather than returning to the status quo because they see that as the easier thing to do in the short term. Momentum is building. Ensuring older workers stay in the workplace and attracting them back if they have taken a career break is an urgent social issue with all sorts of implications for our wellbeing as individuals and as a country. It cannot be kicked down the road any longer.