workingwise.co.uk held a virtual roundtable with employers to discuss how to support older workers during this time of pandemic.
workingwise.co.uk held a roundtable on September 22nd which brought together employers and outside experts to discuss the importance of addressing issues related to older workers and longer working lives, both in the context of the Covid-19 pandemic and beyond.
The roundtable was hosted by Gillian Nissim, founder of workingwise.co.uk, who spoke about the organisation’s commitment to sharing and promoting best practice for older workers. She introduced the roundtable’s sponsor Andrew Ames who said Roche was committed to unlocking the potential of all its employees, promoting well being in its widest sense and ensuring people could bring their full selves to work.
Gillian Nissim said the over 50s were a hugely varied group and that there was no one size fits all approach for employers who wanted to draw out people’s potential and benefit from their experience both in work and in life.
Some of the employers were in the early stages of thinking about what they could do to address issues facing older workers. Others noted that age was often omitted from other diversity and inclusion policies. Some were struggling with redeployment of older workers. Others had a range of policies, such as regular menopause cafes, employee networks, mental health sessions and retirement and financial well being sessions. Some were offering older workers part-time work as they approached retirement.
One employer said they were actively recruiting older workers from related industries for second careers because of their wealth of experience. Another said a lot of the language associated with work was riddled with ageism, for instance, the term rising stars was associated with young people. Employers said they needed to ensure people had access to coaching and upskilling/reskilling throughout their careers so that they could harness people’s human experience in an age of growing automation.
One employer spoke of how they were removing all identifiable characteristics from cvs so they could get a good representation of people before hiring managers. Hiring managers had to do their own personal assessment of their biases. That kept bias front of mind and made them aware of different aspects of diversity.
The Maritime and Coastguard Agency said it is hiring two different groups of people who are looking at second careers. The first consists of people who have had a long career at sea and have a lot of experience – they are hired to do surveys and inspections and to advise on maritime policy. The second includes people who are joining at entry level as coastguards, sometimes from very different industries. Hiring managers are put through unconscious bias training to address possible ageism, although there is concern that focusing on bias might encourage people to embrace it rather than fight it. Their internal training for line managers therefore focuses instead on the importance of diversity of experience and of sharing experiences. They did an external audit which had found that anonymising applications could be seen as negative as it removed people’s uniqueness from the process.
Employers spoke of the difficulty of reaching out to older workers as they didn’t tend to use social media as much as younger workers. One had used local print publications and local radio. Sites like workingwise.co.uk were another possibility. Others used internal coaching to identify people who wanted to progress or grow, based on self selection.
Roche spoke about this and its strategies to help candidates, both internal and external, towards greater self awareness of what they bring to the table. That might involve helping line managers to get candidates to be more clear about what they are offering and having “rich, adult conversations” rather than typical “jumping over hurdles” interviews. Roche called this “un-recruitment” and said the process should be relaxed and natural. Traditional recruitment can be competitive and not reflect accurately the culture of an organisation. Roche is looking for people who are able to be themselves so they can make a better match between candidate and job and the recruitment process therefore needs to put people at their ease and give them a more accurate sense of what the organisational culture is like.
Coach Judith Wardell, founder of Time of Your Life, works with older people who are looking towards extended working lives and provides mid-life reviews to them. She said she often worked with people who had been in a role for some time and needed a new one. They may have a limited view of who their real self is and often tell her they have no skills. If they are asked about their skills, they often list their technical ones rather than soft ones. She questioned how people can be helped to understand who they really are, what drives them and what jobs they might consider.
Some employers offer employees a way of working out what their strengths are and suggest a pathway based on these. Would this work for candidates? Wardell mentioned the impact of ageism on recruitment, in the wider society as well as internalised ageism. Messages such as the need to make way for younger people made people feel written off, she said. They often had low self esteem. Employers needed to do more to show they genuinely want to reach out to this demographic.
Employers recognised that older workers have a lot of skills to offer. They said it was important to help people understand that those skills were important and transferable and to encourage them towards where the longer term jobs might be. It was also important to adopt a preventive approach and keep people in the workforce as much as possible. Some sectors had clearly been more impacted than others by Covid, but schemes like Kickstart, although targeted at the young, required trainers.
Employers said assumptions were made about over 50s computer skills, but not all older workers conformed to the stereotype and people could be given the technical skills they needed to complement their other skills. It was about having realistic conversations about the jobs outlook and the main growth sectors where people could pivot if they reskilled as well as about confidence building. Employers making big redundancies could look at setting up specialised teams to deal with those facing redundancy so they could talk about some of these issues and suggest areas people could transition to. Others spoke about the importance of flexible working. Employers who had managed people out due to age and long-term injuries had found themselves with no experienced workers instead of exploring part-time options or other non-frontline, advisory roles.
Judith Wardell spoke about the need for more reflection about work over the course of a person’s career. She said Covid had made people question more who they were and what they want work-wise. People are living longer and healthier lives and old assumptions need to be smashed. People age differently, she said. Second and third careers were possible. Life after 50 was full of change – kids leaving home, caring responsibilities, etc. These big events made people question things and how they worked, for instance, if they want a portfolio lifestyle. Their motivation to work may increase as a result.
Other employers spoke of colleagues choosing to go part time after they hit 50 because they wanted to start a business on the side and couldn’t earn enough in the early days or because they wanted to do something socially productive and meaningful, whether paid or unpaid, rather than to slow down. Many just wanted more variety. It was felt that employers needed to do more to ensure people keep developing and feel they are doing something meaningful, which is why well being had to be at the centre of work.
Employers also spoke about the need to ensure part-time workers could progress and to give people different career pathways, not just one road upwards. That needed to be supported by more regular reviews rather than annual appraisals which should be focused on a conversation about what people want to do.
Professor David Blane from Imperial College said the UK had the second highest rate of older people still in paid employment in Europe. One in five 65 to 70 year olds are choosing to work in paid employment. It had been assumed, he said, that people worked longer because they had to, but in fact healthier, wealthier people are choosing to work longer because they enjoy working.
The increase in the state pension age would make working longer compulsory, however. Women are already having to work five years longer. The state pension age rose to 66 this year for both men and women. Will this worsen people’s health if they are forced to work longer? asked Professor Blane. The evidence from Italy suggests the risk of heart attacks and stroke rises with every extra year worked when people work in more challenging, longer-hours jobs. Will the increased state pension age worsen the health of those who are already ill? Many older workers have a long-standing, limiting health condition, but employers often do not know about this as there is virtually no occupational health service in the UK, said Professor Blane. Larger employers have their own occupational health services, but few SMEs have access to occupational health services.
Professor Blane said more research was needed in addition to changes in government regulations and greater consistency of communications. He also mentioned the German model of ‘socially productive activities’ which covers paid employment, volunteering and informal caring as an alternative to focusing solely on paid employment at older ages. During Covid-19, he added, the messages coming out of the Government for older workers were often confusing – on the one hand, they were advising older people to work; and on the other they were telling them to shield.
The Maritime and Coastguard Agency said it employed a lot of older workers on a contract basis to keep their expertise, but give older workers more flexibility. They could choose to have annual health check-ups and there is a lot of signposting about health issues, such as what you need to do if you need a different type of desk. They made people aware of work-related health issues and what the Agency can do to help. They also talked about the impacts of the menopause at work and adaptations for serious health problems. Their diversity and inclusion managers were revising information all the time and making sure it was relevant.
Judith Wardell said that the state pension age will keep going up, final salary schemes have ended and we should stop thinking so much about retirement and focus more on enabling people to keep working as long as they want to. People will need to keep working and good work keeps them healthy and gives people a sense of purpose. She said it was up to employers to create physically and mentally good work that does not make people ill. It’s not just about older people, but about people now in their 20s and 30s. How do we support people through a 50-year career? Reskilling has to be normal and employers need to think more radically.
Professor Blane questioned whether people would continue to live longer and said the figures were flatlining now. This was followed by a discussion about the need for employers to engage more with health prevention – for instance, to encourage exercise and address long-standing health issues.
Maritime and Coastguard Agency
Odeon Cinemas Group
Professor David Blane
Judith Wardell, Time of Your Life
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