Why it makes sense to support a multigenerational workforce

As the population ages, there are multiple reasons for employers to do more to promote a multigenerational workforce that acknowledges the different transitional points in people’s working lives.

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Read about National Older Workers Week

The UK’s population is ageing. Over a third of the workforce is now over 50 and predictions are half the UK’s adult population will be over 50 by 2030.

In 2021, nearly a fifth of the UK’s population – 18.9% were aged 65 and over – more in Wales. That figure is up from 18.4% in 2011 and is likely to keep rising.  According to pre-Covid projections, by 2038 around one in every four people [24.2%] will be over 65.

Many of these are likely to still need to work as the age at which people can draw their pensions rises and pensions fail to match the rising cost of living. The impact of Covid, followed by the cost of living crisis, has led to many delaying their retirement plans and the phenomenon of ‘unretirement’.

Meanwhile, the UK is facing labour shortages across a broad swathe of industries as a result of changing demographics, Brexit and other disruption and employers have been engaged in an all-out war for talent for the last months as they try to attract and retain the workers they need. That and increasing awareness of bias in the system has seen an increase in diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives aimed at widening the talent pool as well as a focus on upskilling the existing workforce.

There have also been concerns about the number of older workers who have become economically inactive due to health reasons – a trend that pre-dates Covid, but which the pandemic has exacerbated.

The Government’s response has been to launch midlife-MOT pilots with employers and programmes in job centres across the country in a bid to get older workers and employers thinking about what they need to stay in the workforce – although critics argue this will not address the economically inactive who are not in work or searching for work. It has also extended work to support those suffering from common mental health issues to stay in their jobs or to get them back to work. There have been calls for a more concerted effort to tackle economic inactivity, tailored to older workers.

On the positive side, many older workers still want to work past retirement for a variety of reasons, including social contact, if the conditions are right to do so. Research shows good quality work is good for people’s psychological as well as their financial wellbeing. And technology is changing many roles, making them more sedentary and more flexible.

It therefore makes every kind of sense to attract and retain older workers. Yet barriers still exist to doing so effectively. Many older workers perceive that employers are biased against them and that they suffer from negative stereotypes about older people, such as that they are unwilling to learn new skills or will not stay for long before they retire. Such stereotypes are not backed up by the evidence of decades spent adapting to change. Interestingly, the views of older workers and their employers often diverge when it comes to ageism, with employers tending not to think they have a problem, even though they often don’t address issues such as a lack of positive role models, age diversity in processes such as job interviews or even attitudes to training.

All of that needs to change and, first of all, requires a recognition that age diversity is an issue and that multigenerational workforces are a good thing for employers and employees, matching the experience, resilience and maturity of older workers against the skills of the digital generation. That approach needs to be embedded within workplaces because the future of work is not just about whizzy new technology, but about inclusive workforces that understand and reflect the people they are selling to or working with.

The population is ageing now. As a society, we have delayed addressing the issue of age diversity in the workforce, but it cannot be avoided and those who prepare now, who have the structures in place to support a multigenerational workforce, will benefit the most.

*For National Older Workers Week next month we are holding a series of events and producing a toolkit that aims to provide employers not just with the reasons why they need to be more age diverse and how they and all of us can benefit as a result, but also the practical steps that they can take now so that they are on the front foot and not struggling to cope with wave after wave of crisis management. You can sign up for the events here.

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