13 Sep Ageing in the Workplace
An ageing population exists in the United Kingdom and this is thought to be due to an increased life expectancy alongside low birth rates. This means that there will be a reduction in the number of young people available to work and an increasing pressure on employees to work for longer1. In fact, approximately 1 in 7 employees are aged over 65 years old2. Research published by Restless in 2019, found that the number of older adults aged over 70 years old in part or full time employment, had almost doubled that of 2009, reaching nearly half a million3. Prior to this, from December 2017 to February 2018, those aged 65 years or over accounted for 1.2 million people currently working, which is equivalent to approximately 10.2% of this age group4.
As state pension age continues to rise, it means that the length of time an employee remains in work is changing. Being able to retire at state pension age can be considered a luxury for some, with many older adults continuing to work past retirement age. The decision can be influenced by a number of factors, for example, the social aspect, self-esteem, financial security, caring responsibilities and whether an employee’s partner works1. Subsequently, older adults remaining in work or beginning a new job in later life will bring both benefits and challenges to the workplace. Employers need to recognise these benefits and be able to tackle any challenges facing older adults.
Benefits of an ageing workforce to employers
Having an ageing workforce can often be seen as a burden to workplaces, but it should be thought of as an opportunity so that individuals, organisations and nations can thrive5. Older employees in the workplace offer the opportunity to act as mentors to younger employees by sharing their knowledge and skills6. Older employees have established networks vital to many businesses and can provide experience of how to deal with uncertain situations7. It is also recognised that older employees are less likely to leave the workforce if they have the flexibility and security in the job7. Having a diverse age range working together can lead to improved solutions and generation of new ideas in the workplace7.
Challenges of an ageing workforce to employers
Findings in the AARP Ageing Readiness and Competitiveness Report suggested that ageism and misconceptions amongst older adults is a barrier facing those either remaining in work or re-entering the workplace at an older age6. This may be due to the misconception that health and employability declines with increasing age, however only a minority of older people still working have a decline in their physical and mental health1. Furthermore, there is a negative stereotype associated with older adults, for example, that they are unable to use technology, resistant to change and perceived to have less potential to progress6. Therefore, it is important that workplaces combat these stereotypes, as older employee’s offer a number of benefits as discussed above.
With more people remaining in work until older, this will have implications on employers in relation to health and safety and occupational health responsibilities1. Although, evidence has suggested that if over 65 year olds are free from illness, that they are no worse a detriment than those aged 501. However, providing support for those at risk of developing chronic diseases may improve workability and reduce the risk of workplace absence1. It is suggested that all staff are provided with occupational health including, health promotion, physiotherapy and counselling, as this will encourage staff engagement1.
It is also recognised that the risk of long-term health conditions may increase with age, however the majority of older employees continue to work in good health1. Therefore, getting older does not necessarily mean that an illness will occur as other factors including, work pressures and psychosocial factors may have a larger influence on work-related ill health1. Therefore, the relationship between age, health and employability appears to be weak1.
What can employers do to support older employees?
In order for employers to support older employees, the Government need to ensure the enforcement of policies regarding age discrimination in the workplace6. This will mean that employers are able to provide a safe, healthy, discrimination-free working environment1. It is essential that employers feel that they are equipped with knowledge and experience to deal with any issues with ageing in the workplace. Therefore, they should be provided with training on ageism and specific occupational issues that older employees may experience1. This is vital as employers may need to tackle any negative stereotypes in the workplace in relation to older workers1. This may be achieved by promoting active ageing and creating a supportive workplace, which demonstrates the benefits that ageing can bring such as, knowledge and experience3. It will also be important for employers to ensure that employee’s feel that they can still report any age-related health issues (i.e. culture of openness) without feeling discriminated against1. Employers should ensure that older employees are included in all learning opportunities and are offered flexible working arrangements such as, part time work which could help with balancing caring responsibilities3.
To conclude, an increasing number of older adults are continuing to work past retirement age for a number of reasons. Unfortunately, ageism still exists in some workplaces and so it is vital that attitudes and perceptions are tackled in relation to any negative stereotypes associated with older workers. Evidence has suggested that relationships between age, health and employability appear to be weak. Therefore, it is important that employers recognise the importance and value of older employees and provide a supportive environment where they can work without discrimination.
1BMA. Ageing and the workplace: caring for people of working age. September 2020. https://www.bma.org.uk/advice-and-support/nhs-delivery-and-workforce/the-ageing-workforce/ageing-and-the-workplace-caring-for-people-of-working-age (Accessed 16/10/2020)
2People Management. How to successfully support an ageing workforce. April 2019. https://www.peoplemanagement.co.uk/voices/comment/how-successfully-support-ageing-workforce (Accessed 16/10/2020)
3Restless. The number of over 70s still working has more than doubled in a decade to nearly half a million in 2019. May 2019. https://restless.co.uk/press/the-number-of-over-70s-still-working-has-more-than-doubled-in-a-decade/ (Accessed 20/10/2020)
4BBC NEWS. How many UK pensioners are working – and what are they doing? May 2018 https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-44042133#:~:text=According%20to%20the%20latest%20Office,UK%20workforce%20of%2032.3%20million (Accessed 20/10/2020)
5World Economic Forum. An ageing workforce isn’t a burden. It’s an opportunity. January 2019. https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2019/01/an-aging-workforce-isnt-a-burden-its-an-opportunity/ (Accessed 16/10/2020)
6AARP International. The Aging Readiness & Competitiveness Report 2017 Executive Summary. https://aarpinternational.cloud.prod.iapps.com/arc/File%20Library/Full%20Reports/ARC-Report-Executive-Summary.pdf (Accessed 26/10/2020)
7Fleximize. The Business Benefits of an Ageing Workforce. https://fleximize.com/articles/012520/business-benefits-of-an-ageing-workforce#:~:text=Older%20workers%20are%20generally%20less,and%20security%20that%20many%20require (Accessed 26/10/2020)