Why older workers matter

The case for doing more to attract and retain older workers is clear so what can employers do about it?

Mature lady working at home on a laptop


The working population is rising while many sectors are struggling with skills shortages.

More than one in 10 workers across most industry groups are aged over 60, while more than one in five are over the age of 50.

In agriculture and real estate, over 40% of workers are aged over 50. Moreover, there are currently over 1.5 million workers over the age of 50 in health and social work and more than 1.2 million over 50 in both education and retail.

Many industries have a poor record on retaining older workers, seeing a large drop-off in the number of workers between the ages of 45–49 and 60–64. In particular, finance, public administration and ICT all see a drop of greater than 60% between the number of workers they employ in their late forties and in their late sixties.

Such falls suggest that these sectors are not doing enough to support older workers to work longer.

The case for action is clear, but what can employers do to boost retention and attract older workers?

Four main issues are clear. Employers need to:

  • Tackle age bias and discrimination, particularly in recruitment. Research shows 14% of employees over the age of 50 believe they have been turned down for work due to their age, and nearly half (46%) think their age would disadvantage them when applying for a job. Nearly one in five (18%) have or considered hiding their age in applying for a job since turning 50
  • Make workplaces and working practices more flexible and adaptable to the changing needs of older workers in all their diversity
  • Increase access to skills development, career advice and support throughout people’s lives. The main misconceptions that seem to underpin employer bias against older workers are that younger workers cost less; that younger workers are likely to be more productive; that younger workers will provide the employer with more years of work; and that older people need to leave work in order to ‘make way’ for younger people.
  • Understand better the drivers and barriers to older workers’ employment, for instance, taking into account any caring responsibilities, sickness or disability.

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