An Ageing Workforce – Creating a truly diverse workplace

The number of people aged over 65 and in employment is the highest on record. Is this down to the current squeeze on finances, an increasing national population, or people living longer? Here, Beyond Corporate’s Director of employment, Lucy Flynn, looks at why age inclusivity needs to be on the agenda and the benefits reported by employers with a diverse workforce.

Figures published by the Office of National Statistics (“ONS”) last month showed a sharp increase in the previous quarter of people aged over 65 in employment. At around 12% of the demographic, the numbers were the highest since records began some 30 years ago.

It is perhaps no surprise that rising inflation and a cost of living crisis appears to have forced some to re-think their retirement plans, at least in the short-term. Indeed, similar spikes in older workers were reported after the 2008 financial crisis.

However, some commentators suggest that the current squeeze on finances is far from the whole story.  The UK population is increasing year on year, people are living longer and healthier lives, and prior to the COVID-19 pandemic it was predicted that workers aged 65 and older would be responsible for more than half of all UK employment growth over the next 10 years.  In addition to this, the number of women in the workplace has grown apace and women aged between 45 – 55 is currently the fastest rising UK workforce demographic.  Furthermore, and not to be ignored, the steady increase of the state pension age is a contributing factor to the larger numbers of over 65s wishing to remain in or re-enter employment.

Despite this, there has been a reported rise in unemployment in the over 65s, which indicates that notwithstanding better health, more job vacancies and an increased desire to work, not all job-hunters have been successful in their search.

It has long been unlawful to discriminate on the grounds of age, and the default retirement age of 65 was repealed in 2011, but even so older workers still report facing barriers to either remaining in or re-entering the workforce.  For example:

  • Older workers were more likely to be made redundant during the COVID-19 pandemic
  • Older workers who fall out of work are more likely to remain out of work for longer than younger workers
  • Older workers are more likely to have health issues or caring responsibilities and thus require a more flexible working environment

Given that just under 20% of the UK population – some 12.7million people – are aged over 65, employers embracing age diversity in their workforce are unlocking the huge potential of a huge, talented and flexible demographic which brings a wealth of experience to their organisation.

With the possibility of a winter of discontent facing the UK, along with job vacancies still at record levels, employers taking advantage of age-inclusive recruitment and retention policies are set to reap the benefits.  Key actions include:

  • Ensuring age inclusivity is included in the equality and diversity agenda and policy
  • Reviewing internal policies to ensure they mitigate bias felt by older workers
  • Adopting recruitment processes, from job adverts to job offers, which focus on the “what” rather than the “who”

Whilst focussing on knowledge and longevity of experience during recruitment can alienate younger workers, those employers who have a workforce which is diverse in age report a multitude of benefits, such as:

  • Younger workers benefitting from the leadership and mentoring of older workers
  • Increased retention and reliability from older workers
  • A wealth of network opportunities and connections of older workers
  • Experience and knowledge built up over time offering a different perspective to younger workers

Age discrimination in its many forms still exists in the workplace.  Employers focussing on educating from within and talking to their older workers to identify internal barriers to them feeling comfortable and confident at work are more likely to develop a truly diverse and age inclusive workplace.

By Lucy Flynn