UK needs to do more to support older workers

Employers need to create attractive working situations for older workers, including many carers, because the economy cannot afford to lose them.

Intergenerational workplaces


A 2016 report by the Chartered Institute for Personnel and Development took at look at this issue, and stated that with people living longer and fewer young people entering the labour market, Britain’s employers are increasingly reliant on the skills and talents of older workers to boost productivity.

At the time, it estimated there will be nine million carers in the UK by 2037, many of whom will be trying to juggle both care and employment. Those in the group age 40+ and 50+ face the greatest care demands.

UK compared to other European countries

The report also explored employer practice towards older workers across five European countries. It found that although the UK’s policy framework for supporting older workers and creating fuller working lives is well-developed in comparison to many other European countries, there is a crucial need to turn this thinking into practical action from organisations, to avoid losing the skills and experience of employees who choose to work beyond retirement.

At the time of the report, around 30% of the UK workforce were currently over 50, compared to 20% in the 1990s, and this is set to grow so it is vital that employers put the tools and culture in place now to support older workers.

Rachel Suff, CIPD Employment Relations Adviser, said: “We need to legitimise and support working carers and their place in the labour market. These individuals account for an increasing share of the UK’s workforce, but often feel uncomfortable talking about their situation which results in it being a hidden issue. Employers have a responsibility to raise awareness and train line managers to support employees with caring responsibilities and help them to stay in work.

“They also need to foster an open and inclusive culture, where employees feel supported, rather than in fear of how external factors might affect their job. Ideally, employers should develop an approach that values people for who they are, whatever their age or personal circumstances, and aims to support them in achieving harmony between their needs and desires inside and outside the workplace.

“Flexible working is key to extending working life for people in a wide range of circumstances, and should be a critical component of any strategy to support working carers. This doesn’t just mean offering non-traditional hours, it’s also about creating more flexibility in roles and areas of responsibility which enable people to cope with their personal and professional commitments.”

Age inclusive workplaces

The research shows the scope for creating more age-inclusive workplaces in the UK.

Suff adds: “We need to encourage all employers to see older workers as an opportunity rather than a challenge. With a wealth of experience and transferable expertise, they can benefit the wider workforce and the business as a whole. Although it can be challenging for employers to counter people’s broader societal perceptions, ignoring the issues can hinder effective, intergenerational working.”

The report highlighted specific areas where employers can support older workers, such as not making assumptions about older workers’ health and wellbeing, ensuring older workers don’t miss out on training opportunities, training line managers to support older workers and instituting a mid-life career review.

It points to Denmark where many employers hold ‘senior conversations’ with older employees, to discuss their plans for the future. It says this enables employers to put the right adjustments and initiatives in place to retain employees, who in turn feel they can adapt their role or working hours to support their aspirations for the future.

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