The Office for National Statistics (ONS) revealed that 1.03m people past the traditional retirement age continue to toil away, making them an important – and growing – sector.
To put the number in context, just over a decade ago fewer than 450,000 of those aged over 65 had jobs and the ONS now estimates that by 2050 the UK population will include 19m people over 65 – and many of them will want to work.
However, companies are failing to get the best out of this group by fully utilising the wide range of skills and wealth of experience they have built up during their careers, according to research from Towers Watson, the professional services group.
The study – which came out as Prince Charles’s Initiative for Mature Enterprise called for companies not to throw on the scrapheap the 425,000 unemployed men and women aged over 50 – of human resources staff found that just half believe their companies understand the needs of older employees, and even fewer – just 41pc – are making any progress in tapping more mature workers’ full potential.
Companies are missing out as result, says Yves Duhaldeborde, Towers Watson’s director of employee surveys, who led the research.
“Younger staff are all about themselves – 'my career, more pay’ – but older workers are beyond that, they are a lot less self-centred,” he said. “Ask any older workers the one thing that could be improved or done better and they always focus on the customer, how better to suit their needs or improve the product’s quality.”
Mr Duhaldeborde says this is the inevitable result of people getting to the latter part of their career – but it brings benefits for business. “You are starting to think more 'What’s my purpose? How can I make a difference?’ and not about getting a pay increase.
“People at this stage know what the world is about and their place in it and are not thinking about jumping ship, they’ve made a career choice so they are looking to their legacy.”
Mentoring younger colleagues is one good way for companies hoping to make the most of this mindset, says Mr Duhaldeborde, but he adds this can work both ways. “Companies should consider 'reverse mentoring’. In return for sharing their experience, the people being mentored could teach older staff about new technology, how to best use social media, for instance.”
This continued late-career development can pay dividends for employers too, according to Mr Duhaldeborde: “You don’t stop learning as you get older. You might learn differently, possibly a bit more slowly but you are able to put that new knowledge into context and use it better.”
Businesses looking to improve their corporate social responsibility profile should also think about tapping older workers’ changing priorities.
“As people start considering their sense of purpose, if they see that they are in an organisation that really cares about its role in society, then that motivates them,” says Mr Duhaldeborde. “Of course companies are there to grow and make money but older workers are really hungry for what’s beyond that.”
Everyday workplace issues can also benefit from having older staff around. Despite fears about age and frailty, they have been shown to have lower absentee rates than younger colleagues. Their steadying presence can rub off on junior staff, according to Mr Duhaldeborde, who says as old employees have often been through major upheaval and change before they are not so fearful of it.
Managers need to have a “authentic conversations” with older staff to get the best out of them, realising their aspirations and outlook are not the same as many of their co-workers, says Mr Duhaldeborde: “You need to create a culture that allows people to take a risk and make a mistake – companies are missing out and the economy is missing out because of this.”
The Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) backs Towers Watson’s findings, noting that while many HR departments are addressing the issue, many are not and businesses are losing out as a result.
Key to improving engagement of older workers, says Dianah Worman, CIPD adviser on diversity, is involving management as high up a company’s structure as possible – often people who are themselves older. “Talent does not have a sell-by date and it’s important to get the board on board,” she says.
Improving training and the workforce’s understanding of what it offers is also important, she says. “People may feel they don’t want to take course for fear as being seen as having been with a company for 25 years and still in need of training, or they might have been on a poor course previously and thought, 'Never again’.”
Companies being creative in how to retain staff with sometimes decades of experience is also important. “Older people absolutely want to carry on working – whether it’s for income, because retirement isn’t the dream they thought or they want to put something back,” says Ms Worman. “Offering flexible working is the future though companies can be nervous about this. The challenge is to consider both the needs of the individual and the business.”
However, the one issue she cautions over is relying too heavily on highly experienced, older workers and getting into a position where they dominate the workforce.
“People are not going to work forever,” she warns. “Companies need a pipeline of employees of all ages.”
One business embracing the advantages that older workers bring is Anchor, the older people’s care provider behind the Grey Pride campaign which is calling for an end to ageism in the workforce.
Jane Ashcroft, Anchor chief executive, said: “More than 300 members of our workforce are aged over the traditional retirement age. Older people have already contributed a great deal to society and their experiences are invaluable, which is why it’s incredibly sad to see that some older workers feel let down when it comes to training and personal development. The reality is that some employers are struggling to adapt to an ageing society and aren’t channelling experience and talent in the best possible way.”
Research by Anchor found that “ageist attitudes” are “endemic” in the workplace, with two fifths of young Britons aged 18-24 saying there aren’t enough jobs for older people to be in work. “Casual ageism has no place in today’s society,” added Ms Ashcroft. “Over 60s in England are active, energetic and make valued contributions to successful businesses all over the country.
The future impact and implications of an ageing society need to be properly addressed – this includes adapting to an ageing workforce.
“There is no single cabinet level Minister dedicated to preparing for our ageing society. Our Grey Pride campaign aims to redresses the balance, reclaiming growing old as a positive experience and breaking down the barriers preventing older people leading happy, fulfilling lives.”
Article from Telegraph