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Kevin Friery

Right Corecare

Clinical Director

Read more about Kevin Friery

Business has talent – and much of it over 65

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Imagine you had access to the pick of global talent, to some of the most successful business people in the world.

Imagine if, in your organisation, you could harness the abilities of any of the following business leaders:

Warren Buffett, David Rockefeller, Amar Gopal Bose of Bose Corporation, Gordon Earle Moore of Intel, Bob Oatley of Rosemount Vineyards, Liliane Bettencourt of L’Oréal, George Soros, Hans Rauting of Tetra fame, Forrest Mars Jnr of Mars Inc or Karl Albrecht of Aldi.

How would your business benefit from having access to such brilliant minds available, such able entrepreneurs, with such proven success? Most employers would be delighted to be in a position to employ such talent, yet apart from their impressive track record, there is one other thing that they all have in common – they are all more than 80 years old.
 
The End of DRA
 
In the UK, the Default Retirement Age is due to be phased out from October this year, but is this likely to mean that employers look any more favourably on the over-65s?
 
With a declining birth-rate, an aging population and economic considerations forcing more people to stay at work for longer, it is important that businesses are able to maximise the value that older workers bring to the company. This means fostering a culture in which diversity of all sorts is celebrated – age included – and creating opportunities that enable people to develop and use their skills regardless of age.
 
It also means ensuring that the real value of candidates is recognised and age is not given undue weight in recruitment strategies. In a changing world of work in which people develop new approaches to the way they use time in their lives, there needs to be sufficient opportunity for people to change job roles later in life.
 
Finally, existing employees must be able to develop in such a way that they are still motivated to bring value to the workplace way beyond the traditional retirement age.
 
Research
 
A white paper by Manpower Group entitled ‘Gray Matters’ shows that today’s older workers can offer several key benefits: a strong work ethic, abundant knowledge, loyalty, reliability , focus, perseverance and emotional maturity. HR professionals need to understand exactly what this is likely to mean for their organisation and help managers identify tactical approaches to talent enrichment.
 
One of the myths of employing older people is that they are frailer than their younger counterparts and, therefore, will need more time off work. But looking at UK sickness absence figures provided by the Office of National Statistics, the worst per-capita sickness absence rate is among the under-25s, not in the over 55s. In fact, the over-60s have the lowest absence levels per head of all.
 
Having said that, a culture that values older workers will need to recognise their particular needs but, as we see more and more people playing an active role in the workplace for longer, we will develop a better understanding of the potential impact of the situation. 
 
Challenges and Solutions
 
One change linked to an aging workforce is that people’s expectations of what constitutes normal working hours will shift. There is growing evidence to suggest a greater need for flexible working, for changed patterns of hours.
 
Some companies are already beginning to develop a culture of casual working for people past normal retirement age. This situation creates part-time and consultancy opportunities to help meet the needs of both the organisation and of the individual employee.
 
Forbes in the US reported some time ago, for example, that some employers were introducing the role of ‘grandparent’ into crèches, a move that provided on-going employment opportunities for older workers.
 
But the thing to bear in mind in this context is that respect is pivotal. In a culture that promotes dignity at work, respect flows in all directions. It is not simply a matter of young people having to respect their elders, but rather of everyone acknowledging and celebrating the skills and attributes that everyone else brings to the table, regardless of age (or, for that matter, race, religion, sexuality, culture or any other aspect of diversity). 
 
HR cannot do it alone – a dignified workplace requires everyone to actively collaborate to that end. But HR strategists and business partners do have an important role to play in monitoring and supporting business processes that can contribute to achieving this goal.
 
Radical rethink
 
For example, the primary cause of ill-health in older workers, according to some sources, is arthritis and related complaints. The ergonomic impact of this has to be taken into account and physical abilities needs to be assessed carefully. But it is important to understand that age is not a disability. It is simply one aspect of a number of different diversity considerations and should be treated as such.
 
Another key factor – and one that requires a radical rethink in a workplace context – is the issue of rewards and motivation. The relative importance of different types of reward changes with age and experience. While younger workers tend to be more concerned about pay and promotion, quite often older workers are less motivated by money and more by opportunities to use their expertise effectively. 
 
The ambition of younger workers is quite different to the desire for stability that motivates many older workers. Although these are not absolutes, a successful employer will understand that motivations are likely to differ across the workforce and will plan accordingly. So while providing a gym and crèche may be attractive benefits for workers in their mid-20s, it may not be quite so appealing to someone in their mid-70s.
 
The final important area to think about as the workforce continues to age is the whole area of communications. Younger workers expect to be engaged by means of frequent communications, to be both seen and heard. But this is often in marked contrast to the needs of their older colleagues who feel more confident in their role, understand the task in hand and would prefer to be allowed to simply get on with it. 
 
Neither of these ways is ‘right’ – they are simply different approaches. The answer to getting the balance right lies in creating effective communications that allow for the exchange of relevant information without overloading some or making others feel ignored.
 
Is it worth it?
 
In order to ascertain whether all of this effort is worth it, perhaps it would be advisable to simply look at some of the best-performing organisations around the world. If some of the top entrepreneurs are over 80, just imagine what your workforce will be able to achieve in the years ahead.

Kevin Friery is clinical director of employee assistance programme provider, Right Corecare.

One Response

  1. Completely agree!

    Fantastic post, full to the brim with great ideas and great evidence. The fact is, that with birth rates slowing down and retirement ages going up, turning away perfectly competent, and in many cases, more accomplished and knowledgeable employees is next to madness. The investment that companies have put into these workers and their total experience, in comparison with a relatively untrained, unexperienced younger proffesional is really no comparison at all. To turn our backs on the over 55’s is to turn our backs on a wealth of combined experience and talent.

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Kevin Friery

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