Older UK workers give their employers the highest rating for how well they are treated, ahead of twelve other European countries according the latest edition of our workplace research, the Edenred Barometer.

While this is good to see, we are very far from being at a place where UK employers are doing a good job of making the most of the talents of those aged 55 and over.

An opportunity missed

Let’s start with the evidence in the form of two pieces of research from earlier this year. The first, led by Ros Altman found that there were 1.2 million older people in the UK who were not in any form of employment. The second from the CIPD, showed a trend where older employees were exiting the workforce in increasing numbers, representing a brain-drain of experience and knowledge.

Talent time-bomb

The key theme in both reports and one which is backed up by the UKCES report on the future of work, is that a demographic time-bomb which will see older employees represent the biggest chunk of available labour, means that we cannot ignore the issue. All the talk of engaging millennials and attracting gen-y to the workplace is missing a major issue which is of critical importance to every employer.

Make no assumptions

To effectively confront this issue, it is clear that we need to change our thinking about older people. This must start with wiping clear the assumptions which dictate the way they are treated in the workplace. Incipient grey hair (or no hair) cannot be taken as a sign someone is approaching the twilight of their career. It is clear that older employees want to work longer and want, challenge, opportunity and training to maintain and develop their skills.

Cultural shift required

While this shift in attitudes must championed by our leaders and the HR team, our workplaces will not become friendlier places for older workers unless we shift our culture. This starts with the recognition that the presence of five generations with different habits and expectations around they way they work will not be without challenge. Younger people managing older colleagues, effective communication, adapting to new remote and flexible working patterns need training and support. Bringing consistency to all of this is critical to the cultural shift we need.

Investing in talent

A second investment we need to make is in ensuring our employees can thrive in their longer careers. This starts with health and wellbeing. We are already seeing that some of the working practices we have accepted as a norm – from long hours on the road to deskbound jobs in front of PCs. We need to look at the way our organisations work, stop asking people to live unhealthy lives and keep our people healthy. A second area of investment is in skills. We can’t expect someone who entered the workforce in 1970 to absorb all the skills they need to succeed in 2020. Investing in training in the later years should be as important as for the apple-cheeked new starters.

Creating a future for older workers may look like yet more hassle than it is worth; yet another unwelcome problem for employers to deal with. There is no doubt it will require hard work and investment, but these are efforts that no employer can afford not to expend.

Andy Philpott is sales and marketing director at Edenred. You can find more insight at www.edenred.co.uk/ehub and follow me at andy_philpott 

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