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CSR and beyond: When I’m 65 or will that be 67?

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Leo Martin and Lisa Buchan of the GoodCorporation investigate the response to impending Age Discrimination legislation and find that bosses are forgetting birthdays left, right and centre.




As the UK labour force lives and works longer, employers face a staggering range of age-related issues. A quarter of the UK population is already over 50 years and by 2021 the proportion will be closer to 40%.

The EU directive that makes age discrimination illegal takes effect in the UK as of 1 October 2006 with wide-ranging implications for recruitment and redundancy. Furthermore the Turner Commission is likely to recommend that eligibility for a state pension should rise from 65 to 67 years.

In light of these demographic and legislative trends, age should be rising high on the corporate responsibility agenda but a look through this year’s batch of corporate responsibility reports (Corporate Register.com records currently shows 111 such publications) suggests that age is only just beginning to be included in the discussion on diversity and inclusiveness.

Virtually all CSR reports have some statistics and targets to do with diversity, revealing the gender and ethnic composition of staff. But only about a quarter of the reports provide any figures on the age range of employees. Furthermore, even though many companies say they will be reviewing age policies in light of new legislation, practical policies that address the problems of older workers are few and far between.

The real litmus test is the willingness to keep older workers in jobs. In October 2004 Barclays gave staff the “right to request to work until the age of 70.” Its CSR report now states that it has 252 employees over the age of 60. But as Barclays employs close to 63,000 in the UK, this is a tiny fraction of its work force. And legally there is no mandatory retirement age in the UK. Nonetheless it is noteworthy that Barclays singles out this policy in its diversity section.

Nationwide, however, is the leader in the field when it comes to demonstrating a positive attitude to mature workers. Its CSR report and website highlights its ‘Genome’ research which suggests a beneficial link between length of service amongst employees and quality of service to customers. The building society has a flexible retirement age, anywhere from 55-75 and vaunts the fact that its oldest employee is 87. Sainsbury’s also “values older colleagues” and is planning to recruit 10,000 new employees who are over the age of 50 because this group offers “a diverse range of skills valued by our customers.”

All three companies have huge staffing needs and are already embarked on flexible working policies that help to integrate older workers into operations. But for most companies the problem is not how to recruit older workers but how to make them redundant. Only a handful of CR reports refer to retirement training and outsourcing services when staff are let go. Is this because responsible practices don’t exist or are they not yet treated as CR issues?

The answer lies somewhere in between. Most companies that take corporate responsibility seriously – as evidenced by their reports have also gone far in promoting diversity, that is, expanding opportunities for women and ethnic minorities.

Their reports suggest that they see age and treatment of mature workers as an issue that has to be integrated into their diversity and inclusiveness policies. Once the age discrimination legislation is implemented – and the regulations are still under development – these same companies are the most likely to tackle the age agenda head-on .

But a hundred odd corporate responsibility reports are hardly representative of UK employment practices; the majority of UK companies do not report on corporate responsibility and communicate little about HR policies. There is plenty of evidence that UK employers are prejudiced against mature workers. The Employer’s Forum on Age suggests that age discrimination against both younger and older workers is costing the economy £31 billion. It’s time for UK companies to tap into that mature seam.

Leo Martin is director and founder of GoodCorporation, the corporate responsibility standard and is the principal character in the BBC’s series, Good Company, Bad Company.

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