E&S19: Why employers should care about the ageing workforce – and what they should do about it.

23 July 2019

Robots and Brexit are the two phenomena most commonly talked about when people discuss the future of work and the workplace. But there is a third major change coming to the world of work, that everyone with an interest in employment and skills should be thinking about: ageing.

Right now, nearly one in three workers is age 50 or over. Demographic change, the rising state pension age, and a potential drop in immigration rates, will push this ratio even higher. By 2025, there will be an estimated 1 million more workers over 50, and 300,000 fewer under 30.

For employers, that means the older workforce increasingly is their workforce. Retaining older workers, and making the most of their skills, will be key to any organisations’ workforce strategy in the coming years.

When asked what they miss most about work, most retired people unsurprisingly say they miss nothing. But for many people, continuing to work up to the rising state pension age will be vital to their financial security in later life – both as a source of income, and as an opportunity to pay into their pensions to support their much older age. Work can also provide other benefits: social connections and (in some cases) better health.

But those benefits will only be reaped if the work on offer to older people is suitable to their needs and interests. At the Centre for Ageing Better, we have distilled the evidence on what employers need to do to be age-friendly.

Flexibility is key. Caring responsibilities and health issues are two of the main reasons that people over 50 drop out of the workforce involuntarily. Access to more flexibility – be that shorter hours, different hours, short breaks, or the opportunity to work from different locations – would support more of them to stay. In 2015, nearly half of over 50s said flexible working would encourage them to work for longer.

Many older workers may be balancing other responsibilities with their jobs, but that does not mean they have one foot out of the door. Yet they are not receiving the same opportunities to develop. The European Working Conditions survey found that just 42% of workers over 50 had received on-the-job training in 2015, compared with 59% of under 35s. We will struggle to improve our sluggish productivity growth if employers allow the skills of a third of the workforce to stagnate.

Ultimately, a lot of this comes down to individual line managers: organising flexible working arrangements, having conversations about health adjustments, and making sure that they are having conversations about career development with workers of all ages. Employers need to support their line managers to do these things – and a lot of this comes down to culture.

A signal from the top that all workers are entitled to the health adjustments and training they need, whatever age they are, can make a big difference. That can be signalled to prospective employees as well – by making sure that recruitment material contains more than just mid-20s faces.

These are just some of the things employers can do – you can read the rest in our report ‘Becoming an Age-Friendly employer’. We are working to further build this evidence base, to make sure that employers have more actionable insights to work with. We expect to see more employers waking up to the reality of the ageing workforce in the coming years. After all, it’s all our futures.

Dr Emily Andrews is Senior Evidence Manager at the Centre for Ageing Better.

Employment and Skills Convention – 10 July 2019 #EmploymentSkills19