Managing the older worker & an ageing workforce

Written by
Changeboard Team

27 May 2015

27 May 2015 • by Changeboard Team

Are you prepared for an ageing workforce?

We all know that people are living longer and that a natural by-product of this is that people can, and are, working past the traditional retirement age. In fact, in just 10 years' time, a third of the British workforce will be aged over 50.

In June, the Government announced a consultation regarding the future of the current Default Retirement Age (DRA) legislation and it’s now looking very likely the DRA will be scrapped between April and October 2011. 

Maintaining income, topping up pensions, being personally fulfilled and sustaining social connections are all reasons why increasing numbers of older workers are keen to continue working.

If incentive is needed, HR professionals need look no further than the findings of the new Managing an Ageing Workforce report recently launched by the Chartered Management Institute (CMI) and the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD). It revealed that just 14% of organisations are deemed ready to cope with an ageing workforce. Is your business one of the remaining majority that is not yet ready for the changes?  

Don’t be surprised if it is. The report found that UK organisations across all sectors are under-prepared for an ageing workforce. Given that the vast majority (93%) acknowledge the invaluable contribution that retaining the knowledge and experience of older workers can bring to a business, there seems to be a disconnect between what people think and the business decisions they are making.

HR influence talented older workers

If action isn’t taken, employees who are in the 50+ bracket will feel undervalued and will have no incentive to carry on working beyond normal retirement age. In difficult economic times, organisations must galvanise the talent and skills available to them to maximise performance, something which will become increasingly difficult if gifted staff walk out the door.  

The issue appears to stem from board-level – over a third of managers reported that there was absolutely no recognition of issues around older workers at the top levels of their companies. This presents an opportunity for HR – the research showed that HR departments are seen as very influential in terms of the way older workers are managed – to take the reins and ensure action is taken.

You have a key role to play in driving through the necessary changes organisations need to make; businesses that ignore the issue risk losing talented people to better-prepared competitors at best, and legal action at worst.

Educating the workforce age diversity

Pressing issues for HR to address include reviewing policies and practices related to recruitment, retention and development to make sure businesses have the talent they need to perform successfully. In addition, strategies for managing an ageing workforce need to be put in place. These must then be communicated to all staff – a worrying number of managers, especially at middle and junior levels in large organisations, are not well informed about retirement policies.

In fact, educating the workforce generally about age-related issues needs to be a key priority. Worryingly for both older and younger workers 55% felt they has been disadvantaged at some point in their career because of their age. For four in 10, this was down to appearing too old. It’s also likely that many people don’t have experience of working with people of differing ages – while organisations are increasingly being composed of a broad spectrum of age groups, 41% currently work somewhere they consider not to be age diverse. 

Managing older colleagues

There’s a clear role for instigating training here, particularly for line managers. The research showed that 59% believe managing older workers is challenging for younger employees. In addition, just seven per cent of organisations offer training to line managers on how to go about managing older colleagues.

To get line managers onside, review the development opportunities on offer for your workforce and adapt training to ensure that line managers are able to cope with an ageing workforce. As employees get older, their needs are likely to change, so a blanket approach to training is no longer appropriate.

Almost half of managers think that more specific training is needed, and HR managers have a duty to listen to the concerns of their staff and take steps to implement a revised development package.

HR tool

With April 2011 just seven months away, HR managers need to prepare their organisations to cope with an ageing workforce or risk losing talented staff. Changes to legislation and workplace demographics will have wide ranging consequences and HR professionals must make sure the issue gets the attention it deserves at both board and line manager level.

The Managing an Ageing Workforce report can be downloaded at