Older Employees – Organisational Asset or Liability?

Shortage of People and Skills Ahead

In recent years the focus has been on apprenticeships and job opportunities for young people, which are both important.  However, that has distracted managers from another pressing issue – the skills and ‘corporate glue’ provided by older workers.  The number of young people coming into the workforce is shrinking.  By 2022, 14.5 million more jobs will be created, but only 7 million younger workers will enter the workforce – a gap of 7.5 million.  By 2020, the over 50s will comprise almost one third of the working age population and almost half of the adult population [1].

To address this gap, Andy Briggs, the Government appointed Business Champion for Older Workers, has called upon employers to increase their recruitment of older employees, over the next 5 years, by 12% i.e. 1:8 of recruits.  Organisations such as Business in the Community have published guides to help employers in that quest [2] and to combat age bias in recruitment.  Managers need to adapt to new ways of looking at their workforce profile and recruitment of staff.

There are several aspects as to why older employees are a real asset to an organisation:

  • They are often seen as a source of advice by young workers.   This is rather like the relationship that sons and daughters forge with their grandparents from whom they are more likely to accept advice than from their parents.  A balance in age range of the workforce helps young people to develop and older colleagues to use their life wisdom.
  • The maturer outlook and experience of older individuals enables them to see potential improvements to processes and/or customer service and  contribute to discussions about changes.
  • They are likely to have transferable skills but managers will need to adopt more effective ways of recruitment.  Focus should be upon what an older individual has been exposed to in their working life rather than just x years of experience – see our earlier article on this approach to interviewing staff.  It is recognised that many older workers will have the following qualities – loyalty, reliability, time-keeping, numeracy, customer focus, managerial/supervisory skills.
  • Older employees are more likely to have a positive attitude to working and like to have their ideas and experience noted to improve the services/processes in which they are involved or which affect their work.
  • Learning new skills is not a barrier for older workers.  It may require a different approach to training and development as was proven by the work of Dr Sylvia Downs when she demonstrated that older workers could be retrained as bus drivers in a shorter time and just as effectively as younger staff.  [3].  the use of trainability tests may be of help and with the advances in learning technology, different media can be used to enable older workers to assimilate new learning more easily.
  • Older employees, i.e. those aged 50+, tend to have fewer odd days off sick compared to young people according to RIAS Insurance [4].

Many managers are concerned about recruiting older workers because of issues such as absence. physical stamina and a belief that they are too set in their ways.  Such views are commonly held and will fuel reasons not to employ an older person.  However, the evidence from studies and one’s own experience indicate that such risks are lower than many expect.  There will be individual exceptions and, unfortunately, the exceptions are remembered more.

Added Value via Different Attitudes

Growing older does lead to some issues e.g. musculo-skeletal complaints, arthritis, impairment of vision and hearing.  In many cases, such complaints do not bar an individual from carrying out the work as the individual will learn how to adapt.  However, additional help will be needed in some cases.  With the the gap in the workforce, employers should consider how then can help an individual to minimise or overcome such issues.

Older workers present an opportunity to explore a more flexible workforce.  They may find flexible contracts appealing as those may help them to balance their carer responsibilities or pursue their interests outside of work.  Contracts involving core hours  plus additional hours would give certainty of income and availability to employees.  Employers would be able to match operational demands with a ready trained and adaptable set of workers to meet seasonal, holiday and sickness periods.  (To read more about this aspect, there are several articles on our blog about flexible staffing contracts).

Providing opportunities to learn new skills at work is a win win situation.  Older workers feel recognised and will apply their new skills in surprising ways and become ambassadors for the organisation.

There is a downside that some senior managers find difficult to handle.  Mature workers are more likely to question the reasoning and consequences of decisions as that is part of their curiosity and customer focus.  A few managers may feel threatened by such questioning which can lead to strained relationships.  A few minutes spent explaining the reasoning can help to see the both viewpoints or even that the decision should be modified to achieve a better outcome.

Help for Employers and HR Managers

HR managers should start to help line managers address the issue by showing the relevance of adopting new approaches.

From now on, managers should not ask what has he/she done but of what is he/she capable –
as the pool for recruiting staff is
bigger than you think, if you are prepared to try different approaches.

Other countries face similar issues with an ageing workforce.  The Society of Human Resource Management in the USA has published a report containing tools and templates which HR managers may find useful for getting to grips with the issue in their own organisation.

Guides for employers have been published by Business in the Community,  Their website also contains relevant resources such as tools and case studies on recruiting and managing older workers.

Studies have been produced during recent years on the issues of an ageing workforce which show that there are many advantages of having a greater proportion of older workers. [5]

If you would like to discuss the above issues in the context of your organisation
regarding recruiting and managing older workers, please let us know
using the button on the left hand side of this page to send a message .

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[1]  Factsheet: Dispelling Common Myths around Older People in the Workplace, Business in the Community.   www.bitc.org.uk

[2] How to Guide re Age Target, Business in the Community, www.bitc.org.

[3]  Learning New Skills and Retraining Older Workers – Trainability Tests – Dr Syliva Downs and Anne Warren, ITRU.

[4]  Insurance firm RIAS noted that older workers are half as likely to take a sick day compared to their younger counterparts. Only a quarter of over 50s took time off in 2014 due to ill-health compared to just under of half of those aged 20-30 years old.

[5]  An Ageing Workforce: The Employer’s Perspective, Helen Barnes, Deborah Smeaton, Rebecca Taylor, Report 468 © 2009 Institute for Employment Studies.
Managing A Healthy Ageing Workforce A National Business Imperative CIPD 2012

© 2017 HR Management Dimensions

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