Thinking differently about ageing

The biggest challenge when it comes to helping older workers is changing people’s mindsets about ageing and an Action for Elders campaign aims to do just that.

age bias, ageism at a workplace


Ageism in the recruitment process and beyond is a big problem for older workers. Our annual surveys consistently show that older workers think ageist attitudes are holding them back. But before we can tackle ageism at work, we need to change our mindset about what it means to be older. That’s the idea behind the ‘Think differently about ageing’ campaign led by Action for Elders.

The campaign was first launched at the House of Commons on Halloween 2018, but lay dormant during Covid. It has relaunched in the last few months, spurred by the sudden interest by policymakers in getting older people back to work after Covid and with a sharper focus on particular areas, from healthcare to the media and the advertising industry.

“There’s so much negativity about ageing, including in the workplace,” says Chief Executive of Action for Elders James Lewis, who is 70 this year and still working hard and having sleepless nights over challenges at work. He says there are so many benefits for employers, employees and customers from a multigenerational workplace that make employing older workers a no brainer. He lists a strong work ethic, feeling comfortable in your own skin, business experience and a plethora of business ideas as just some of the advantages.

Lewis thinks we need to rethink forced retirement – not everyone wants to retire and if they are happy in their work, why should they have to, he asks. Indeed research shows people live longer if they don’t retire. In retirement, they tend to be more sedentary, they are less motivated and that drives illness, he says. He also cites research which counters our ideas about cognitive decline with age, saying parts of the brain renew themselves with age if they continue to be stimulated.

Action for Elders

Action for Elders runs community programmes focused on healthy ageing, including ones aimed at encouraging people to be more connected and more mobile.  The focus is on health and wellbeing.

Asked about the Budget’s offering for older people, which includes health support, Lewis says he wants to see the detail. He says some organisations have shown an interest in older workers, but many “dip in and out” and think only in the short term. Action for Elders is in it for the long run.

Lewis [pictured right] would like to see much more focus on patient interaction and on health prevention to encourage healthy ageing, for instance, preventing falls, something Action for Elders addresses. Lewis says there is a fall cycle among older people where a fall leads to a hospital stay and short-term physiotherapy. Within months of getting out of hospital they often fall again. Every time they fall, their physical and mental health deteriorates. 

He says countries where people live longer, happier lives have better diets, promote regular exercise for older people and encourage good social connections, all of which is underpinned by a more positive attitude towards ageing. “The UK’s approach is very short termist and that doesn’t work,” he says. Covid made things worse due to the impact of social isolation. Keeping people in work through more flexible working is a way of addressing this, says Lewis, adding that it helps build people’s confidence.

He emphasises the need to feel a sense of achievement and meaning as being vital to people’s self worth and to their health and happiness. Work can provide that.

Lewis knows only too well how work can provide a sense of meaning. He left corporate life – he had a senior role in financial services – over 30 years ago after his first child, Christian, died from cancer at only five years of age. Since then he has dedicated his working life to social enterprise and to promoting positive action for change. He says: “Christian changed both my and my wife’s lives and taught me so many things.”

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