Age is often left out of discussions about workplace diversity and inclusion policies, but Covid-19 has brought it right back on the agenda, with figures showing the impact on young people in particular. However, there are also growing concerns of the impact on older workers, with reports showing over 50s are more likely to be made redundant than those in their 40s. Meanwhile, the trend towards greater longevity and longer working lives continues, with the State Pension Age just having risen to 66.
A growing number of employers are keen to discuss the long-term implications of our ageing society and the need to retain experience despite the pressures of Covid-19.
A recent virtual roundtable hosted by workingwise.co.uk, a jobs and news website for older workers, brought employers and experts in occupational health and support for older workers together to discuss everything from tackling ageism in the recruitment process to the need for greater support for career change in later life – a vital issue in today’s workplace.
Recruiters 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. Others used internal coaching to identify people who wanted to progress or grow, based on self selection. Positive role models were important as was the language used in job adverts which often showed an unconscious bias towards younger, ‘dynamic’ candidates. Advertising flexible new roles was also key.
Pharmaceutical company Roche spoke about the need to help all candidates, both internal and external, towards greater self awareness of what they bring to the table. That might involve helping line managers to encourage candidates to be more clear about what their unique experience and having “rich, adult conversations” rather than typical “jumping over hurdles” interviews. However, coach Judith Wardell, from Time of Your Life, said people often went through their careers without having any opportunity to question what it is they really want to do and where their strengths lie. This, combined with ageist messages which were often internalised, made it difficult for older people to have a clear idea of where to focus job searches, particularly if they are facing redundancy. She said employers needed to do more to show they genuinely want to reach out to this demographic.
When it came to retention, it was felt that employers needed to do more to ensure people keep developing and feel they are doing something meaningful, with a focus on well being being vital.
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.
The roundtable also heard from Professor David Blane from Imperial College who asked if the increased state pension age would worsen the health of those who are already ill. He said 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. Larger employers have their own occupational health services, but he pointed out that few SMEs have access to occupational health services.
There was also discussion of how to support those facing redundancy in later life. One suggestion was for employers to set up specialised teams to signpost people and discuss some of the issues individuals are facing and suggest areas that people could transition to.
Judith Wardell said that longer working lives are a reality and many people will either not want to retire or be able to afford to. She said we should stop thinking so much about retirement and focus more on enabling people to keep working as long as they want to. The focus instead needed to be on good work that keeps people healthy and gives them a sense of purpose, she said. And she added that tackling ageism and the longevity agenda was not just about older people, but about people now in their 20s and 30s. It was about how we support people through a 50-year career. For Wardell, it was about normalising reskilling and more radical thinking about workforce potential.
To read the full discussion, click here.