A guide to the ageing workforce

Written by
Lucy Whitehall

08 Feb 2016

08 Feb 2016 • by Lucy Whitehall

Retain valuable skillsets

According to a recent study by the Economist Intelligence Unit, nearly three quarters of senior executives think the number of over 60s they employ will ‘increase significantly’ by 2020. Changes to the state pension and advances in healthcare will mean that people either can, or will have to, work later into their lives. This presents employers with both an immediate and a long term challenge. The number of older workers in the workforce is going up, but as they retire they will take a valuable skills pool with them. HR professionals are in the perfect position to guide their employers both with regards to recruitment and workplace wellbeing, and ensure that employers make the most of the opportunities the ageing workforce present.

Benefits to your business

Older workers bring considerable advantages to businesses. The most obvious one is loyalty, as older workers tend to stay in their jobs for longer than younger workers, as they are often comfortable with their career progression and are less likely to be chasing promotions. Another advantage is their strong communication skills and increased emotional intelligence. Unlike millennials, they grew up with face-to-face conversation, and will have gathered both maturity and experience on their career journey. Finally, older workers come with a ready built network of contacts, whether these are suppliers, counterparts at other businesses or other people who can support them. 

The rise of the ageing workforce could also bring an advantage for younger workers, giving them access to people with greater experience. Bringing more experienced people into the workplace provides the opportunity to establish a mentoring scheme, and this knowledge transfer often works both ways. Older workers can pass down their knowledge of processes and navigating office politics, while younger workers can ensure everyone is up to date with the latest technology.

What are the challenges?

When it comes to the ageing workforce, there are very few disadvantages for HR professionals to take into account. Some older people may however need adjustments to their workspace or working pattern. This could include considering support for chronic conditions, varied caring responsibilities, access, location or mobility. 

Another challenge for HR professionals is to retain older workers, and keep them engaged. A wide scale loss of older workers will lead to an increased skills gap. In order to prevent this, employers must focus on continued training and development for all members of their workforce equally. 

When do I need to start making any changes?

HR Professionals need to be planning ahead now. Between 2011 and 2014, the number of people aged 65 or over in the workforce has grown by 229,000. We are likely to lose 9 million older workers in the next 20 years, but despite this, nearly a third (30%) of the workforce are aged 50+, and this percentage is growing. 

How will the ageing workforce effect the hiring process I use?

Workforces need to be inclusive. To ensure HR professionals are recruiting fairly, make sure you really interrogate the job description you are pulling together. Does the applicant really need to be a new graduate, or could they be an older person looking to reskill? Ensure that you monitor your company’s diversity breakdown, making it clear that you welcome applicants from all age ranges. Ensure applicants know that you promote career development across all positions. A 50 year old will be just as interested in continued training as a 20 year old, after all, they could be working for another 15 years. 

Will I need to change my benefits packages?

All good wellbeing packages create relevant offerings for the different life stages of their employee’s lives. For example, access to pension advice may be much more valuable for middle-aged workers than it will for those in their twenties. Access to financial advice is a massive bonus for those approaching the second half of their working lives, especially with the regulatory changes to pensions that have occurred recently. 

Employee benefits such as occupational health and personal development training will be just as relevant to older workers. These people are now likely to make up the ‘sandwich generation’ – looking after children, as well as elderly parents. This means that benefits such as flexible working, advice on elderly care and support for their caring needs will be invaluable, as well as wider lifestyle advice.

How can I help my current workforce to adapt?

The most important thing to consider here is line management training for the employees you already have in place. It can be difficult for people to manage employees who are older than them, so training on how to handle this with confidence and sensitivity would be a very good idea. Managers need to feel comfortable approaching subjects that were previously taboo, including the menopause, mental health and arrangements for caring for elderly parents.. 

Although it will be a big change, the increase in the ageing workforce presents a fantastic opportunity for businesses, and HR professionals can ensure the transition is as smooth as possible, and that both the older workers and the businesses get the maximum possible benefit.