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Christine Broughan

Coventry University

Director of The Age Research Centre

Read more about Christine Broughan

Age audit tool unwrapped: How ageist is your organisation?

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In the blink of an eye, the default retirement age made employees go from being seen as important contributors to society to a perceived ‘burden’.

The recent end of the DRA is just one element of a broader shift towards recognising the changing role, and value, of older workers.
 
Enabling more people to defer retirement and work longer may also prove crucial for national economies in the longer term. It has been estimated that extending working life by just 18 months will contribute £15 billion to the UK economy, for example.
 
 

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Figures from Eurostat suggest that the number of people in Europe who are aged between 55 and 64 will increase by 14 million between 2005 and 2030, while the total working population (aged 15 to 64) will fall by 20 million.
 
But the number of older workers is also rising at the same time and it would appear foolhardy to disregard this fastest growing working group when undertaking recruitment and promotion activities or attempting to retain staff.
 
Age audit tool
 
This is not least because evidence suggests that employers with diverse workforces experience better financial returns in the long-term, while employee studies point to higher levels of job satisfaction and self-worth.
 
But the key question is whether organisations – through their policies, structures and culture – are in a position to attract and retain older employees as demographics continue to shift.
 
At the Age Research Centre at Coventry University, we have worked with the conciliation service, Acas, to create and develop an ‘Age Audit Tool’, which enables HR professionals to obtain insights into cultural attitudes towards older workers, retirement and current organisational practices.
 
The Tool, which has been piloted at a number of different organisations, employs a traffic light system in order to illustrate the responses to surveys of such attitudes and help HR practitioners identify at a glance the areas in which the organisation is doing well and where it needs to improve.
 
The system comprises red for ‘requires urgent attention’, amber, which indicates ‘proceed with care’ and green, which means that ‘we’re doing fine’. The aim is to make it easy for employers to understand how well they are performing in order to prioritise their interventions as part of a wider strategic workforce review.
 
Overall, Acas scored well. Some 40% of all employee responses were within the green zone, which means that they believed the organisation provides a positive inter-generational working environment.
 
Sustainable change
 
While the largest percentage of answers fell within the amber zone, further examination demonstrated that the majority were closer to the green rather than the red zone. Out of a possible score of 225 points, the highest was 153.
 
About 27% of respondents strongly agreed that colleagues were not treated differently as a result of their age and that their workplace was welcoming to everyone regardless of how old they were, while almost 11% disagreed.
 
Further analysis is now required to identify whether the more negative responses were linked to actual events such as bullying, harassment or a lack of training opportunities and to a specific age group.
 
Focus group discussions would also be useful to identify whether this perception related to the ‘workplace’ as a whole or was associated with individual departments.
 
To really tackle age-related issues effectively, however, employers need to create sustainable plans that don’t just look good on the company’s website, but make a real difference to employees’ lives.
 
Policies and procedures need to be focused and action-orientated, while the company culture and its leadership must reinforce age-friendly attitudes from top to bottom of the organisation.
 
Key to achieving this goal is to engage older workers in the process to ensure that they are in a position to inform change rather than feel that change is simply being thrust upon them. Areas to address include:
 
1. Recruitment and selection
 
Being able to select and retain the most appropriate people is fundamental to an organisation’s success. So think about how you advertise vacant positions, the language that is used, where the ads are placed and the like.
 
Do you require applicants to provide their date of birth? Do you offer age-awareness training for staff involved in the recruitment and selection process?
 
2. Training and development
 
Some training and development opportunities may need to be specifically targeted at older workers. While the aim is to move towards the introduction of a more inclusive culture, initially it may simply be about finding ways to encourage older workers to attend training sessions.
 
But employers would do well to listen to what training individuals think would be beneficial to them and establish whether there are any barriers to going down this route.
 
3. Job design and flexible working
 
Annualised hours can be beneficial to workers with carer responsibilities so that they can balance the two things more effectively. Job crafting, on the other hand, can be useful for older employees who would like to change function, take on less responsibility and work more flexibility as they move towards retirement.
 
Employers should ensure that work design processes accommodate the requirements of an older workforce as research suggests it can make a material difference to staff satisfaction and engagement levels.
 
4. Retirement
 
It is important to engage in dialogue with employees who are approaching retirement age in order to discuss the possibilities of a phased retirement and the like and to ensure that HR procedures are considered transparent and fair.
 
But it is also important to recognise that such discussions, especially within the current legal framework, are often seen as challenging or difficult. For example, it may now be necessary to hold performance management-related discussions that previously would not have been held when the compulsory retirement age was still in place.
 
Management training, regular employee appraisal reviews and long-term development discussions should all likewise become more common place as part of the succession planning process.

 

Dr Christine Broughan is director of the Age Research Centre at Coventry University.

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Christine Broughan

Director of The Age Research Centre

Read more from Christine Broughan
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