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Charles Goff-Deakins

Senior HR Officer

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The ageing workforce: four approaches for HR


Our ageing workforce brings many benefits for businesses, but it requires commitment to fully support them.

By 2020, one in three workers will be over 50 years old. With the increase of the retirement age, phased retirement, or employees just not wanting to retire, the workforce will be older than ever before, and with this comes many rewards for organisations.

From diverse ways of thinking to sharing years of expertise and skills, it will prove fruitful for HR to attract, embrace and retain the older workforce, as well as putting the right measures in place for younger staff in anticipation of their later years in work.

Attracting older workers

Both companies and employees are appreciating the benefits of flexible working, and with the advances of technology and the recognition that factory-style management practices are so last century, it will only become more commonplace as time goes by.

Emphasising flexible working in job advertisements doesn’t necessarily attracts older applicants per se; it attracts applicants of all ages. What will attract the older applicant about flexible working will attract all ages, but assures the older worker this is something that’s a given, something that’s part of the culture.

Attracting older workers harnesses years of expertise, decades of working through the ranks at each level, witnessing fails, successes and the lessons learned from each. All this knowledge is packaged up in an older worker, and is something that few younger workers can bring to the interview table.

By attracting older workers, you have a consultant type role within your company for strategic and longer-term projects.

Organisations should make themselves more aware of their older workers’ physical and mental health needs and that they can differ from those who are younger.

You are also providing them with a purpose, just like any other worker needs in order to feel fulfilled. One of the reasons retirees can return to work with either the same employer (‘boomerang employee’) or a different one is due to the sudden change from working to not working.

Work provides many people with a sense of purpose – take that away and some feel that their purpose is gone.

Purposeful roles attract these types of retirees, and when they return to work they bring with them a newfound appreciation of their skills and experience and how these can contribute massively to the organisation.

Although you might feel an older applicant is more suitable for a role, be mindful that your campaign and phrasing of your job description doesn’t discriminate younger workers.

Retraining older workers

Worryingly, some organisations, and older employees themselves, have a misconception that learning and development stops after a certain age. As an avid advocate of learning and development, I cannot begin to tell you how untrue and damaging this way of thinking is.

Retraining older workers can be approached in two different ways: direct retraining and indirect retraining.

Direct retraining sees the older worker undertake specific learning and development in order to meet a skill gap, learn a new skill, or develop existing abilities. The reasons why this will happen can vary greatly, and are usually determined by industry needs or professional development.

Direct retraining brought about industry needs involves employees learning new methodologies, practices and know-how in response to new technology, research or behaviours.

Direct retraining involves employees proactively keeping abreast of their ever-evolving area of expertise, or even changing careers entirely, which itself brings a host of invaluable transferrable skills.

Indirect retraining, on the other hand, is supporting the older worker less formally to adapt to modern approaches to things like management styles, for example. Studies are continually carried out investigating how people behave at work and organisational psychologists are publishing more and more best practices for managing people.

Although not applicable to all older workers, some may feel some sort of attachment to older style management techniques, so dispensing with those subsequently results in ambiguity and frustration. No longer is it standard that a manager is older than their reports.

No longer is it guaranteed that a sense of hierarchy or superiority is granted to those who manage others. As we promote more modern and exciting new ways of managing people, HR will need to be mindful how they support those who are attached to older management styles.

Supporting older workers

Employee engagement is one of the most crucial aspects of the workforce HR focuses on. Part of this considers how employees are motivated, and although each individual is motivated by a number of different factors, we still need to consider typical (not actual) generational motivators.

It is suggested that older workers were once motivated by promotions and monetary rewards.

Over time, motivators have evolved into purpose and flexibility (both in ways of working and skill utilisation), and as part of employee engagement initiatives, organisations need to assess their workforce’s motivators based on their preference, not the organisation’s assumptions.

Keeping a finger on the pulse of these developments means the organisation can not only adapt in time, but also be one of the first to set the standards and be seen as a trailblazer.

As we all know, physical and mental health conditions can affect anyone at any age. Organisations should make themselves more aware of their older workers’ physical and mental health needs and that they can differ from those who are younger, for example their increased likelihood of arthritis, heart conditions, type 2 diabetes, osteoporosis and certain cancers.

This awareness should be factored into line management training, health awareness initiatives and attendance management.

The older employees themselves will benefit from being aware of this and can be incorporated in retirement training. Companies are now offering more retirement training to all those who would like it (although do not aim it at specific employees!) which advises employees on pensions, investments, tax, and retirement life.

This can be offered in a way that benefits those who are specifically intending on retiring within the next year or so, or for anyone who needs pension advice in general. This leads to the final approach to consider.

The future older workers

Offering retirement training to those who are not intending on retiring any time soon helps younger workers understand the benefit of pensions and financial wellbeing now, and in preparation for retirement.

Offering this sort of support to the future older workforce promotes a stronger psychological contract in general by way of suggesting they want their employees to stay with them for a long time, as well as taking appropriate measures for the business to avoid unnecessary costs.

For example, endorsing a healthy work culture through keep-fit and health initiatives may result in a healthier workforce now, and in the future when employees reach a certain ages where health conditions are more likely to affect them. This has a huge impact on keeping absence levels down, performance levels up, and a generally happier and healthier workforce.

Keeping a finger on the pulse of these developments means the organisation can not only adapt in time, but also be one of the first to set the standards and be seen as a trailblazer.

So as the workforce continues to work well into their 60s, 70s and beyond, HR can use these four approaches to really embrace all it has to offer for the organisation and its future.

Attracting, retaining and supporting the older workforce, and putting in place pre-emptive measures and culture changes in anticipation for the future older workforce, not only makes sense, it ensures organisations can learn, develop and flourish with a societally reflective multi-generational workforce.

Want to read more? Find out how to ensure your employer brand spans the generations.

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Charles Goff-Deakins

Senior HR Officer

Read more from Charles Goff-Deakins