There is a lot of conversation around racial and gender bias in the workplace at the moment, and this is absolutely something to be applauded. But, one of the biggest issues still rarely discussed is age discrimination. Businesses need to understand that age discrimination is not only illegal in most cases, but it also has a huge negative impact on the workplace.
The demographics of UK workers are changing. In just five years’ time, there will be 300,000 fewer UK workers under the age of 25, and by 2035, half of all UK adults will be over 50. Life expectancy is also increasing, which is impacting retirement age. Many people now want to work for longer, not only because they see no rush to retire, but because they want to keep adding to their pension pots.
These are stark figures that clearly demonstrate why businesses cannot afford to keep alienating older workers – it might work for them now, but as the workforce ages, they’ll have to adjust if they want to secure the best talent. We caught up with Andrew Drake, Client Development Director at Buck to get his view.
Young vs old
In some sectors, retaining older workers is simply not a priority. App developers and tech start-ups, for example, are more likely to hire staff with the ability to code. Though it’s not exclusively the case, these applicants tend to be younger workers who have grown up in a technology enabled world.
For a lot of companies, though, this view is not only blinkered, but actually detrimental to the business. Many workers who are now in their 60s have grown up with a very strong work ethic. With an increasing focus on productivity, defined by output from every hour worked, more companies could benefit from this attitude.
There are many examples of older people still at the peak of their careers, and who still have so much to give. David Attenborough is 93 and still very much at the centre of the climate change movement. Warren Buffet is 89 and still one of the most successful investors in the world. Whilst the older staff in a typical workforce might not be quite on this scale, the impact of losing the experience and wisdom of this generation is huge.
They also bring a different dynamic to the workforce in terms of diversity of thinking, which is also valuable. In fact, there is scientific evidence that knowledge and expertise keep developing well beyond the age of 80 and that older staff still have the ambition and curious nature that is needed to maintain and develop new skills. Businesses would therefore do well to foster a culture of inclusion.
Age specific benefits
A key part of making older workers feel valued and engaged is a benefit scheme that works for everyone, not just the younger staff. Benefits that use gamification or that make a reward available on an app are fantastic for encouraging engagement with millennials, but it’s important to remember that technology-oriented initiatives like these might alienate some older workers.
Companies need to remember that effectiveness is ultimately determined by how well schemes are being taken up by staff. Communication is key here. It might be that older staff would prefer a simple conversation with a colleague about which benefits they’d value.
The reality is that staff in different age groups will likely prioritise different benefits. Retaining older staff might mean offering a life assurance policy or a healthcare scheme, for example. These options tend to feature in most employee benefit schemes, but are often not communicated effectively to those who care about them the most.
Businesses are taking conscious steps to address many forms of bias in the hiring and retention of staff, but often overlook age discrimination. Older workers have so much to offer the workplace, both in a business sense and also by sharing their experience and wisdom with younger staff. It’s time for companies to realise this, and to put a plan of action in place to ensure they are hiring the best talent for their business, regardless of their age.