With the news full of reports of labour shortages, immigration curbs and ongoing health...read more
workingwise.co.uk talks to Michael King at Senior Response Ltd, a contact centre business that makes a virtue out of the fact that the average age of its employees is 55.
Hiring older workers can offer all sorts of mutual benefits to employers and candidates. One employer who has spotted the potential is Senior Response Ltd.
It’s a specialist telemarking agency working primarily in the mature market space. The company was set up in 2001 to plug a disconnect in the market between the people in contact centres – who were generally young – and the consumers of products and services for over 50s that they were dealing with. Michael King, Managing Director, says: “We were getting feedback from clients we surveyed that there was a disconnect if they were selling, for instance, life insurance and the person on the end of the phone was 21 and had never had a mortgage. It wasn’t that they were a bad agent, but life experience is something you can’t teach.”
The company works with organisations that provide services to older people, such as hearing aids and tests, financial services and insurance, later life planning, care home groups and funeral planning services. The calls need to be sensitively handled. Having experienced employees who can have those conversations and relate to consumers is part of its USP.
The average age of its employees is 55, although there are several younger ones. A few employees have even come out of retirement to work with Senior Response. King says retention is good. The average tenure in an industry with a high churn is around six years and 15% of staff have been with the company for more than 10 years, turning myths that older workers won’t stay in a job for long on their head. The annual attrition rate in the industry is between 20 and 40% whereas Senior Response’s rate is 4-4.5%.
So how do they recruit without running foul of age discrimination rules? When they started, age discrimination legislation wasn’t such a problem, but nowadays a lot of recruitment is through word of mouth or previous applications that have been kept on file. They also put adverts up on social media, but haven’t had to use a recruitment agency in four years. Many of the workers who have been hired have experienced ageism or perceived ageism in the recruitment process. King says that some older workers lack confidence and focus on the things they can’t do. Senior Response tells them that employers are looking for precisely what they do have – life experience.
Eighty-seven percent of workers work part time – usually 9am -2pm or 2pm to 7pm. King says doing eight-hour shifts of contact calls can lead to burnout. Having shorter shifts keeps energy levels and focus up. King says potential employees are asked what hours they want to work and the company tries to flex around them. Some employees have other jobs or caring responsibilities so it works well for them.
There is also flexibility when it comes to where they work. Pre-pandemic most worked in the office, but now 85% work from home or hybrid. Some people prefer to come into the office, which is open from Monday to Thursday, for their own mental health and for social reasons. The move to remote working means the company has a much broader talent pool to draw from than those who live in the Solihull area, where the office is based.
Senior Response also ensures that staff get all the training they need to work on multiple campaigns. Agents work on more than one campaign to ensure the work is varied and that helps to build their confidence. The company’s clients are often involved in the training. There are also internal opportunities for promotion, for instance, to team manager.
For King there are other benefits to hiring older workers, including the high work ethic and understanding of the importance of being reliable, gleaned from decades in the workforce. He says a third of the workforce is over 50 and 80% of the UK’s wealth is concentrated in the hands of the over 50s. That means lots of opportunities for services and products aimed at them and for age inclusive contact centres with workers who understand the issues that consumers are facing.
For workers, the benefits include feeling they are making a difference, the flexibility to work around caring, health or other reasons and the ability for those who have retired to top up their pension.
“The model works for us and there is a benefit for both the business and for workers,” says King.
He is keen to help make the case for a more age-inclusive approach to recruitment in the contact centre industry. “We need to promote contact centre work as a viable option for everyone,” he says.