Workingwise.co.uk’s annual survey was published last week and shows that a high number...read more
Not many people like talking about age or ageing, but it’s a fact that we’re living and working longer. Against a background of technological change, skill and labour shortages, it’s argued that organisations will need to improve how they attract, manage and develop people as they age . It’s an issue the NHS, as the UK’s biggest employer, can’t afford to ignore.
Before we go any further, let’s define ‘older’. ‘Older’ is a word not everyone will feel comfortable with, but it’s commonly used by experts to describe workers aged 50 and over. Official data show there are over 10 million older workers in the UK – that’s a third of the total workforce.
Therefore, let’s pinpoint the key benefits older staff bring to the NHS and why continuing to invest in their skills is a sound move.
With 1.5 million employees, the NHS is the UK’s biggest employer and fifth largest globally. But despite its size, and headcount increases in some areas, many argue it does not have enough people to meet demand.
Consequently, retention and staff engagement are key priorities and offering quality education and training opportunities for staff can be a great way to support these. Older staff are a prime target for such opportunities because some may be keen to diversify after years in the same role.
With age comes more knowledge and more experience, and these can be huge assets to any organisation looking to maximise performance. At a time when the NHS needs to deliver more with less, productivity of all staff is vital and so having pro-age health, well-being and careers policies makes good sense.
Evidence shows that older workers value flexibility more than younger colleagues. In this respect, upskilling older staff working reduced hours flexibly may seem counter-intuitive to some, on return-on-investment grounds.
However, investing in the careers and skills of the 50+ workforce has two distinct advantages: it can improve overall performance and retention rates by increasing staff engagement and helping to offset pressures caused by workforce and skills gaps; and it can widen the overall pool of people and skills available.
As we know, age is one of nine protected characteristics under the Equality Act 2010. Despite this, research has found that age is the least scrutinised and most widely accepted form of discrimination in the UK and there is evidence many older workers feel overlooked when it comes to career progression opportunities.
More positively, an age-inclusive approach can make an organisation more effective due to the power of knowledge-sharing. Some 70% of employers in England stated in a YouGov study that older workers can help in knowledge and skill sharing.
Upskilling them increases an organisation’s overall effectiveness.
Technology, including digital and artificial intelligence, is now a major part of our lives and its power and reach are increasing all the time. Some parts of the NHS have been slow to catch the tech wave, but this is changing as more and more Trusts switch to electronic systems.
While this won’t mean NHS staff have to become tech wizards, it will mean change for staff at all levels and ages. This may increase the need for professional development skills such as time and project management, critical thinking, problem solving, confidence and team leadership.
The industrialist Henry Ford said: “Anyone who stops learning is old…Anyone who keeps on learning not only remains young but becomes constantly more valuable.”
If Mr Ford is right, then continued positive investment in the skills and careers of the older workforce can only be a good thing for the NHS. It can engage and empower individuals to continue growing and remain at the top of their game. In so doing, they become even more ‘valuable’ to the NHS overall. The result is stronger people, stronger systems and even higher standards of care.