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Embracing an Ageing Workforce

Posted On: 31/07/2020

There are lots of reasons why many of us are choosing to work for longer. We enjoy better health, we love having purpose in our lives and, as workplaces embrace diversity and inclusivity, we are seeing more flexible rewards and retirement options being offered.

According to the Office of National Statistics the number of working pensioners in the UK has doubled since 1998. It is estimated that in 2035 half of the UK adult population will be aged 50 or over, and in 2040 one in seven people will be over the age of 75.

Adapting workspaces and tailoring learning and development initiatives for an ageing workforce is essential for today’s organisations, especially as birth rates appear to be on the decline.

Benefits of an ageing workforce
Mark Zuckerberg famously said that “younger people are smarter”. But, imagine having a business purely based on retaining and recruiting academic people who are only skilled in technology? Organisations need a mix of behaviours and qualities to succeed – they need individuals who can nurture, collaborate, communicate, influence, mentor and lead.

Having a multi-generational workforce provides a healthy mix of skills, experiences, backgrounds, mindsets and knowledge. Not only does it make poor business sense to attract only the younger individuals, it’s age discrimination.

If you were to look into the science of an ageing brain, you’ll discover that its power does decrease after the age of 30 but its knowledge and expertise continues to rise, even after the age of 80. And it is knowledge and expertise that drives high performance in the workplace.

BMW realises the importance of their ageing workforce and makes adjustments to accommodate its valuable members of staff. For example, the automotive company increased productivity on one of their assembly lines which was staffed with their older workers by 7% in just 3 months by providing cushioned floors and adjustable work benches.

The more mature employees:
• Are a valuable resource for mentoring and coaching.
• Have a wealth of company knowledge and industry specific experience.
• Can train other members of staff and share their valuable skillset.
• Have large networks which have taken years to build – valuable in sales and business development roles.
• Are fantastic role models.
• Are loyal, the older generations have a ‘job for life’ attitude unlike many of their younger colleagues.
• Don’t have the distractions of a young family (or the time constraints such as the school run or school holidays).
• Provides a sense of wellbeing. Research has proved that employees who work alongside these highly skilled workers have heightened feelings of safety and security.
• Have the financial security to allow flexible and part time working patterns

Due to their years of experience, the older workers have witnessed a lot of change. This experience has strengthened their patience and developed their wisdom enabling them to remain calm and level-headed in a crisis. Businesses with a mix of generations will be able to ‘ride out the storm’ easier than those without such diversity.

How to attract and retain an ageing workforce

Recognising the benefits that the older employees bring to an organisation should be a trigger for businesses to make positives steps to encourage their older workers to stay and to also recruit them.

• Create roles, or adapt existing ones, with responsibilities best suited to their expertise.
• Extend career models and create new development paths.
• Make workstations or workplaces more accessible. This can include simple adjustments such as better lighting and changing font sizes on screens.
• Offer flexible working.
• Have a mentoring scheme. This cost-effective way to train younger members of staff gives a strong sense of purpose to the older workers who are no longer driven by ambition to climb the ‘career ladder’.
• Practice reverse-training. The younger employees can train their older colleagues in all things technology. Having a multi-generational workforce that recognises each other’s strengths and are keen to share their generation’s knowledge and expertise will benefit from mutual respect.
• Make sure that your policies reflect your diverse workplace and ensure there is one on anti-discrimination.
• Review your rewards and benefits package and make sure that there is something there for all generations.
• Look at your retirement package and ensure that your organisation is offering flexible retirement options, also referred to as phased or partial retirement.
• If necessary, design new wage policies to avoid feelings of resentment from the younger employees who believe there is too big a gap.

Succession planning

A challenge faced by an ageing workforce is that individuals will retire at undetermined ages.

When engaging in succession planning with your employees:
• Never presume what their plans are for their future.
• Talk to individuals with a mix of ages.
• Do not focus on retirement.

Only when an employee speaks about retiring should you start to develop a plan and timeline around it. To learn more about this topic head to our recent blog, HR Strategy & Forward Planning.

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