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Nancy Ames


HR Director

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The ageless workplace: how to attract and retain employees across five generations

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Learn more ways to improve your workplace wellbeing with The Ultimate Wellbeing Toolkit – a practical learning hub brought to you by financial protection specialists Unum, designed to equip HR professionals with the skills and knowledge they need to show employees that they are valued. 

Regardless of age, a key factor in employee retention is whether staff feel cared for by their employer.

In today’s increasingly competitive market, salary is no longer the sole differentiator for employees choosing between employers.  Less tangible elements such as feeling listened to, corporate social responsibility or having inspiring leader figures can also be key. For employers, this can be a double-edged sword. While this is good news for smaller start-ups and SMEs, who might not be able to afford to compete with the pay packages offered by much larger competitors, it also means that firms – whatever their size – need to pay closer attention than ever before to what they can offer potential employees outside of financial remuneration.

From company culture and leadership style through to flexible working policies and benefits packages, there are many aspects which should be taken into account. For a significant number of organisations, however, many of these are still little more than an afterthought. Research[1] recently commissioned by Unum found that a third of workers across all age groups feel they are only ‘adequately or poorly’ cared for by their employer – and more than a fifth felt their levels of wellbeing had got worse in the last three years.

But getting workplace wellbeing, and all that entails, right can be easier said than done – particularly when catering for the needs of an increasingly ‘ageless’ workforce. Here are four ways to help attract and retain staff of all ages.

1. Reach out to millennials

Our research found that 18-34 year olds place far greater importance on career opportunities, inspiring senior leadership and feeling part of a team compared to their older counterparts.

For this age group, it’s crucial to facilitate and encourage progression and development. Line managers must be upskilled to handle their employees’ development needs – from keeping them informed about training opportunities and regular feedback on performance to encouraging developmental project work.

Age can also impact views on employee benefits. Younger workers can often be more interested in ‘softer’ benefits, such as gym membership or cycle to work schemes. Whereas flexible working, often incorrectly thought of as predominantly a parent’s requirement, tends to appeal to a broad range of age groups each with distinct motivational drivers.

Line managers should be equipped to explain the full suite of company benefits on offer. For graduates, new into the world of full-time office work, this is particularly important. Many young people will be unaware of the benefits on offer to them, may not understand what they are and how they benefit from them, resulting in a wasted investment from the employer.

2. Retain and attract older workers

The abolition of the Default Retirement Age, combined with factors such as improved healthcare and greater life expectancy, mean that there are now more people over the age of 50 in employment than ever before. The number of people working past retirement age has almost doubled in the last year, and by 2020 a predicted third of workers are expected to be over the age of 50[2].

So what should employers offer older workers? Compared to younger workers, support around ill health becomes increasingly important as we get older. 66% of workers over the age of 55 say flexibility and support at work if they fall ill is important to them – and 60% say the same of financial support through ill health[3].

Employers need to understand this disparity, and benefits which staff can choose to opt in or out of are a good way to cover all bases. Elective health insurance, for example, can help older workers cover the cost of medical treatment, while there are a number of early intervention measures such as Employee Assistance Programmes which can help employees and employers alike to spot potential health problems early and lower the likelihood of long term absence from work as a result of illness.

3. Reward staff with the right benefits

The key way to meet the needs of such different groups of employees is a comprehensive and flexible benefits package that provides the core benefits that are important at any age, whilst also allowing staff to tailor elements to their individual situations and changing needs. This helps them to get the most from their reward package by making sure it is weighted towards benefits they truly value, whatever their age or life stage.

A flexible benefits package should also include financial protection which is valuable at any age, such as Income Protection, Life Cover, Sick Pay Insurance and Private Medical Insurance. Income Protection, for example, provides a back-up plan for the more than 1 in 10 employees[4] who will go on long-term sick-leave during their working lives. Employers should consider funding a basic level of financial protection and giving employees the option to buy more at the discounted company rate according to their needs.

4. Communicate effectively

Above all, employers need to bear in mind the importance of clearly and concisely communicating what they offer. Regardless of age, a culture of openness and ongoing communication between staff and line managers is crucial. There is little point investing in good employee benefits if you haven’t clearly explained what staff are entitled to. It’s not enough to talk about benefits in induction packs when staff first start work, employers also need to keep communicating as they progress and pass various stages in their lives and careers.

5. Prepare for the Future

A recent Unum study[5] found that embracing the ‘ageless workforce’ trend is key for businesses who wish to excel in the future. An ageless workforce is one which allows ‘returnment’, encouraging older workers to remain or return to the workplace instead of retiring, and sees workers’ energised to continue to work until a later age because they want to, rather than have to. Making adjustments now to avoid losing out on this valuable talent pool will not only have an immediate effect on productivity and loyalty, but will also help businesses avoid significant financial repercussions in the long-term.

[1] Wellbeing Lag, ICM Research commissioned by Unum – April 2014

[2] Modern Workforce, Cass Business School, commissioned by Unum, 2013

[3] ICM, commissioned by Unum, 2014

[4] ICM survey commissioned by the Guardian on behalf of Unum, May 2011

[5] Future Laboratories, The Future Workplace Report, commissioned by Unum, 2014

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Nancy Ames

HR Director

Read more from Nancy Ames

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