What do older workers want?

Workingwise.co.uk has published its survey of older workers’ experience of the world of work, which shows a common perception of ageism in the recruitment process and a strong desire for greater work life balance.

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Read about National Older Workers Week

Workingwise.co.uk has published the results of its survey into older workers’ experience of working, looking for a job and Covid as part of the first National Older Workers Week. We outline the results below.

Workingwise.co.uk’s survey is based on the responses from around 2,000 respondents, 22% of whom are looking for a job. Most – 67% – were in the 56-66 age range and they spanned a wide range of sectors, with healthcare and medical being the most represented, followed by administration and secretarial, retail and education. 37% of them work full time in the workplace compared to 13% who work remotely or hybrid full time. The rest work part time, with 30% working part time in a workplace. Interestingly, less than 1% do a job share despite the figures showing a big appetite for this. 51% said they would like to do a job share.

There was a big interest in reducing hours and in work life balance generally. Work life balance is important or very important for 94%. This compares to 79% who said salary was important or very important and 85% who said job security was important or very important.

86% said what they look for in work has changed since they were young, with the desire for greater work life balance being the factor that had changed the most.

39% said flexible working is a deal breaker in taking a job, mainly due to work life balance.

Meanwhile, 72% would like to reduce their hours [39% of these would like to, but can’t afford to]. One reason is carer and grandparent responsibilities which apply to 46% of respondents.

Greater flexibility and control over hours is the leading factor in their interest in self employment as well. 71% have not been put off self employment by the pandemic.

Workplace experience

When it comes to their experience in the workplace, 55% said they had encountered ageism in the recruitment process versus 12% who hadn’t. The rest were unsure either way.

44% had altered their cv, compared to 35% who did not, to disguise their age because of perceived ageism in the recruitment process. The area where there is most perceived ageism is in the applications process [55% said this compared to 34% who said they had encountered bias in the interview process].

When it comes to career progression, 86% said they have not been promoted in the last five years. 54% have had no access to training recently, with 30% saying this is because training is mainly aimed at young people in their organisation and 11% saying because it is mostly reserved for full-time workers. Nevertheless, 85% are open to learning new skills.

However, when it comes to the kind of soft skills much sought after by employers which are based on life experience, 75% said theirs are not valued enough by employers.

Respondents were divided about whether they would recommend their employer when it came to its policies and practices for older workers: 22% said their employer is not great and 7% said their employer is bad. This compares with 14% who said their employer is excellent and 27% who said they are good. The rest expressed no opinion. 30% said they would not recommend their employer to other older workers.

Covid experience

Respondents were asked about their experience over the course of the pandemic. 14% were furloughed at some point during the pandemic. Of those furloughed, 25% said they feel less secure as a result; 30% feel less confident generally; 26% have struggled financially;  21% have had time to think about what they want; and 35% have enjoyed their time on furlough.

When it comes to their health, 56% said their mental health had gone downhill due to Covid. This is mostly due to fears for their or their family’s safety and health [55% said this], with general anxiety related to the pandemic being the second highest factor.  19% said it was due to isolation from remote working, the lowest of all the potential factors on the list, including financial worries, job security and juggling work and life. 10% had to apply for Universal Credit during the pandemic.

There is evidence of older workers facing challenges finding a job after being made redundant during the pandemic, with other research showing older workers tend to take longer to get back into a job. 19% were made redundant during the pandemic. 38% of those made redundant during the pandemic said they are still looking for a job more than a year after being made redundant, with 16% having been looking for between six and 12 months. 73% said the length of time they had been looking had affected their confidence.

Redundancy and beyond

We looked more closely at longer term patterns with regard to redundancy.  15% of those who have found a job in the last five years had been out of a job for more than a year; and 13% had been out of work for between six and 12 months. 58% of those who found it hard to find a job said their age was a factor compared to 20% who said it wasn’t. 54% of those who were looking for work said they would like more support in making job applications.

Some of the respondents are not currently looking for work.  16% were not looking for work due to caring or grandparent responsibilities; 24% due to health concerns and 9% specifically due to Covid concerns. Asked what might tempt them back, 41% said more flexible working. This compares to 15% who said higher wages.

We also asked respondents about what they planned to do over the next five years. There was a mix of replies: 25% want to reduce their hours; 34% want to retire and 28% want to find a new job. Many of those who had changed jobs had switched to a new sector. 54% had changed sectors the last time they got a job.

Case studies

The findings are backed up by nine in-depth case studies of those who have been out of work for some time, with many of those interviewed saying that they disguise their age due to a firmly held perception that this is hindering their job search. While they often can’t point to a blatant example of ageism in the application process, all of them said that things like body language and tone when they did get an interview suggested that they wouldn’t be successful. Several said that recruiters had advised them to disguise their age. One man in his mid 50s was told to knock 12 years off his cv by a recruitment consultant. Workingwise.co.uk will be publishing all of these in the coming days. 

Towards a more age diverse world of work

Workingwise.co.uk would like to see greater awareness of the problems faced by older workers, particularly with regard to the recruitment process, but also when it comes to training and progression, greater emphasis on work life balance and more positive role models as well as more effort to stamp out unconscious bias and to think outside the box when it comes to career gaps. Many employers are making efforts to monitor and address other forms of unconscious bias, but age seems not to be on the radar of many or only on the periphery.  Yet people will be in the workforce for longer in the future, they are likely to have more career breaks in their lifetime and they may not be able to or want to retire. A more age inclusive workforce makes sense for workers, for employers and for society generally, given the positive impact of good quality work on people’s wellbeing. With many areas of the workforce suffering from skills shortages, it seems very short-sighted not to make use of the richness of experience available.

*National Older Workers Week, sponsored by QA,  runs from 22nd November. The week will include a series of online events for employers and candidates with leading experts and employers. In addition to a panel discussion on managing multigenerational teams event on Wednesday, a best practice event on everything from eliminating age bias in the recruitment process to returner programmes and lifelong learning and a candidate-focused discussion on Thursday about finding a job you love. Find out more and register for the free events here.

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