There has been much debate of late about the potential challenges facing older workers who have lost their jobs as a result of the pandemic.

Survey after survey shows that they tend to take longer to find a new post. For many older workers a large part of the problem is ageist attitudes within the recruitment process – something that may be more marked in a labour surplus market. Yet age tends not to be included in diversity and inclusion data and decision-making. conducted two surveys at the end of last year – one among older workers and the other a more qualitative study among a group of employers.

The results were interesting. Over two fifths of the over 600 older workers questioned said they had experienced age discrimination at work, with 48% singling out the recruitment process as a problem area, compared to 40% who felt sidelined or left out of discussions at work generally and 24% who said they had experienced discrimination when it comes to promotion. Forty four per cent said they had experienced barriers to getting a job due to their age. Drilling down more into the recruitment process, 84% said they thought it was harder to get shortlisted because of their age. A quarter admitted to tweaking their cv to disguise their age, mainly due to perceived ageism by recruiters. 

However, once recruited, 76% said they were upfront about their age at work. Nevertheless, 27% thought their employer didn’t value their experience; 52% have seen less experienced colleagues promoted over them; and 61% said their employer doesn’t rate their life experience enough.

On what would make a difference: 69% of respondents considered positive and visible role models of older workers the most important marker of an age friendly employer.

The employer survey, on the other hand, showed that most did not keep a record of age diversity in their organisation and 85% did not consider age in the recruitment process.

This may be because they think they don’t have an issue with age diversity, although nearly half either said they didn’t feel they did enough to recruit, retain and promote older workers or didn’t know if they did. This was despite the fact that the employers questioned were fairly progressive in their policies – over three quarters said they used older workers in career-related case studies, 69% said they check job adverts for ageist language and all of them said they encouraged all workers to take part in training and development.

While most offered mentoring opportunities, including reverse mentoring, and retirement support, when it came to career progression later in life the survey showed under a quarter offered a midlife review to workers and only 8% offered support to older workers – or others – who want to change track. 

It is clear that, even among more progressive empoyers, more needs to be done to promote the benefits of hiring older workers, particularly in an ageing workforce and at a time when many will have to work longer before they retire.

Although employers may not think they are discriminating against older workers, there needs to be greater awareness of how older workers are experiencing the challenges of Covid and, in particular, a more proactive approach to encouraging older workers to apply for vacancies.