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Jamie Lawrence


Insights Director

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Businesses struggle to accommodate rise in older workers


Companies may be struggling to use older workers to their full potential, according to a new survey of 100 senior HR professionals.

Close to two thirds (59%) of respondents to the Towers Watson research said they were not making progress in adapting working environments to the needs of older workers or taking advantage of their broad skillset.

Just 50% believe their organisation understands the changing needs of employees across their professional lifecycle.

Employers must increasingly cater to the needs of older workers for two reasons. Both the scrapping of the default retirement age (DRA) and the downward financial pressure on older workers is forcing them to work for longer.

In 2001 there were 450,000 people aged 65 or over working in the UK, equal to 1.6% of the working population. This figure is now one million, according to statistics from the Office for National Statistics (ONS). The ONS estimates that by 2050 this figure could hit 19 million.

Yves Duhaldeborde, director of employee surveys at Towers Watson said: “The sharp increase in older workers has led to a large proportion of employees with over 40 years’ experience. With no default retirement age a significant proportion of the growing over-65 population will continue to want, or need, to work. These older workers can add huge value to organisations in terms of experience and skills but problems can arise when companies are ill-prepared to meet the needs of this group of workers, who may require more flexibility in their working life.”

Data from the Towers Watson 2012 Global Workforce Study suggests workers over 50 often shift priorities from career advancement to customer satisfaction and service quality, providing organisations with a valuable group of ambassadors. However, these workers feel let down on training and development grounds, which they feel organisations reserve for younger workers whose careers are evolving.

Towers Watson offer three tips for managing older workers:

  1. Use their experience to train the workforce. Older workers are ideally placed to mentor younger employees and are often reliable, knowledgeable resources for companies to take advantage of. In return younger employees can provide reciprocal ‘reverse mentoring’ in areas such as technology and social media.
  2. Offering support beyond workplace management. Turning down an opportunity to roll gently into retirement in order to fulfil a passion is often frowned upon at work but also at home. Employee assistance programs can be invaluable when employees are approaching a career transition. Wellbeing strategies should also consider the differing needs of each employee age group and be adapted to meet the needs of the over 65’s.
  3. Having the freedom to take extended time-off can prove very useful for employees who are at a crossroads, trying to make important professional decisions. Offering these employees the flexibility to take a sabbatical and calmly explore different avenues should be part of the employee value proposition for older talents.
Author Profile Picture
Jamie Lawrence

Insights Director

Read more from Jamie Lawrence

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