We’ve all heard the preconceptions when older and younger workers are compared; the world and employment are both more digital than before, something that younger employees are more at ease with. They’ll be employed for much longer, while possessing the energy and zest of youth.
It is a preconception that spills over into recruitment, with age bias still prevalent. However, not only are older employees a necessity because of the changing UK workforce demographic, they also enrich and improve the working environments they are in.
Let’s look at how employers benefit by hiring older staff members.
How is the workforce changing?
If employers are avoiding hiring older employees – either by accident or design – they really ought to rethink that strategy.
Obviously, the major reason should be because it’s right to judge people on their ability and competency to fill a role, instead of their year of birth. The Equality Act 2010 tackles unfair treatment of UK employees of all ages.
But if that’s not enough, perhaps this realisation is: Employers will need to utilise the older generation of workers to remain competitive.
A government document from 2013 predicted that the number of people over the age of 50 in the UK workforce will be as high as 33% by 2020. This is even more important when you consider that the very same piece suggested that there aren’t enough education leavers to fill existing vacancies.
Add to this the fact that immigration numbers are being reduced, and we quickly see that older people, far from being seen as a hindrance, should be seen as a precious resource for recruitment.
The importance of older workers and their place in the UK labour market is there for all to see.
If we look at the 50 – 64 year old age group, the number of people in work has increased in every quarter since May – July 2014. Significantly, more than 73% of people in that age group are economically active; that is to say they’re either in work or looking for work. This figure is at its highest since records began 24 years ago.
Almost 11% of people who are 65 or over are in employment. This number has only been bettered once before.
Unemployment of over 50s decreasing
The importance of older employees in the workplace has not been lost on the government either. This summer saw unemployment of over 50s fall to its lowest level since 2009.
At 9.4 million, there are now more people aged 50 – 74 in work than ever before.
It led to the Employment Minister, Damian Hinds, to call on businesses to support older employees who stay in work and utilise their skills.
He said: “It is clear that people over 50 aren’t slowing down or getting ready for retirement. I want to see businesses supporting this momentum while also reaping the benefits of the skills and expertise these older people can bring to the workforce.
“People in later life are increasingly looking to stay in work and it is important that more businesses look for ways to support them.”
Reasons for the increasing number of older workers
According to the latest figures, almost 10 million people in the workforce are over 50 years of age, (1.23 million older than 65 and 8.59 million between 50 – 64).
The Employers Network for Equality & Inclusion (ENEI) say this is “equivalent to over 30% of those in work.”
Their spokesperson, Alan Beazley, set out three reasons why employment of older workers is on the rise.
“Firstly, the removal of the Default Retirement Age (DRA) has been a key factor driving employment for the over 65s.”
Initially implemented in 2006, the DRA meant employers could force their workers to retire once they hit the state pension age of 65. However, this was scrapped in April 2011.
It means that many are now working past retirement age. The only way an employee can be forced to retire at a particular age is if there is good reason for doing so.
Known as the compulsory retirement age, this might come into play if the job has an age limit set by law, or requires physical exertions that are beyond the employee.
Secondly, Alan said, is the “significant increase” of older workers in self employment, as well as in part time work.
The final point centred around the “strong” macroeconomic reasons. By closing the employment gap between workers who are above the age of 50, and those in their 40s, it would increase GDP.
Alan explained: “It’s estimated that GDP would be around 1% higher if the employment gap between older people aged 50 – state pension age and those in their 40s were halved.”
We’re in an era where certain industries are struggling with skills shortages which, coupled with high youth unemployment, are ample reasons why employers focus on attracting older workers to their business.
How older workers benefit employers
“The perception people have when you mention over 50s workers, is that they think of tech illiteracy, low skills base and crumbling health. But people don’t realise that they’re often at their peak.” – Jonathan Collie
What values do older workers possess? Jonathan knows, that is for sure.
If you were asked to verbalise reasons why older workers aren’t as useful to the workplace as their younger counterparts, who can say they wouldn’t automatically think of the above?
They are the general stereotypes we seem to hear, which are clearly some way from the truth.
The key, according to some, is to change and ‘challenge the mindset’.
Rebecca Bull is the founder of My HR Hub. She called for employers to embrace the ageing workforce.
“I think we need to challenge our mindset – in a lot of cases the ‘older’ worker does feel that they are too old to apply for different roles or to have a change in career, so perhaps here is part of the challenge.
“We need to recognise the ageing workforce and that post-retirement age employment is part of the future world of work.”
Older employees bring experience
The level of experience is one of the main benefits of hiring older workers.
This ‘revelation’ isn’t reinventing the wheel by any stretch but it is easy to overlook.
All those whippersnapper, fresh-faced apprentices and graduates ready to take the world by storm undoubtedly have a place – we wouldn’t want to suggest otherwise. But this shouldn’t come at the expense of wisdom built up thanks to 30+ years in the working world.
Companies such as Barclays understand the value and look to tap into it.
This comes through their Bolder Apprentices scheme, which is open to anybody over the age of 24 who has been out of work for more than 12 months.
It has seen many people in their 50s and 60s recruited for a variety of roles.
The scheme provides working opportunities for “older individuals that have got great career length of service with their employer but have had to leave for one reason or another.”
A spokesperson at Barclays talked in particular about an employee in his 50s who had to leave a previous job because an accident meant he could no longer drive up and down the country in his sales-based job.
This particular employee displayed traits that many others have: vast experience.
Barclays’ spokesperson explained: “This chap has got something like 35 years of experience of conversing with individuals and I think he wrote himself off because he doesn’t know about computers.
“But we train people on computers, so he was the ideal representative to come in and work with our customers.”
This sends out a very clear message: the employee’s age is immaterial when set against experience. Barclays understand that – just like the example they provided – there will be many candidates who have gained great experience that can be put to use in their company.
These skills are transferable and Barclays know they can train up candidates who have a skill set built up over a number of years.
The value of experience is not lost on other employers either. Tim Kellett is Director at Paydata. Like Barclays, he outlined that new skills can be taught. Those that have already been accrued should be utilised.
As well as the vast knowledge and skills that these employees bring, he said: “No amount of training can make up for the decades of wisdom and work experience they can bring to the table.
“As such, they can play a pivotal role in offering skills to younger employers, acting as teachers and mentors.” (something we’ll touch on later).
Tim Drake is Head of Talent Management at Hudson – a global talent solutions provider. He said that employees of the Generation X and Babyboomer generations still have much to offer.
“You also have to bear in mind that these middle-aged freelancers, contractors and portfolio career workers are going to be boasting years of experience in many roles.”
Creating a balanced workforce
The experience of older employees will undoubtedly be a positive to the company environment, with the ideas they can bring to the workplace.
In their time in the professional arena, these employees may have worked in a number of different offices, under many directors and owners, operating under various management techniques.
Having witnessed so much in this time, these workers bring “a valuable sense of perspective” according to Darren Simmons, Managing Director of sports executive search firm, The Executives in Sport Group. He pinpointed the “resilience” they have built up as a valuable tool in the workplace.
“Many of the senior professionals I work with have gained qualities like resilience and an understanding of business politics – which can be a challenge in one’s early career – over time.”
So what we’ve established – albeit in a slightly convoluted way – is that there are many reasons why older workers should be employed, and how they might add value that perhaps a younger employee hasn’t yet gained in their career.
But similarly, a workplace solely consisting of seasoned professionals wouldn’t be the best for business. Younger employees bring something to any company too; their ambition, energy, and willingness to learn are all extremely useful.
The key is to harness this ability by having a healthy mix of people of all ages.
Therefore, create a balanced workforce – doing this adds a winning mixture of leadership and ideas.
The need for such a balance is not lost on Tim Drake, head of talent management at Hudson. He believes younger and older workers can learn from each other.
“It’s all very well and good packing your organisation with young, fresh thinkers, but there needs to be a balance of mindsets and skill sets, and that stems from having a mix of generations.”
Mentoring younger employees
We’ve established that a business consisting of a workforce centred around one particular age group – either younger or older – is bad for the company.
There should be a mix, and organisations could then maximise the expertise of older workers to help their younger counterparts.
The process of mentoring and learning from older generations has been around since the dawn of time; people who have more life experience can obviously impart this knowledge on younger people.
Look at Obi Wan Kenobi and Anakin Skywalker. Okay (spoiler), that perhaps didn’t end the way ol’ Obi wanted. The Yoda and Luke Skywalker connection was much more fruitful. Using your experience to help the learnings of the younger generation can bring huge success.
And it’s not just in the make believe world where this happens. The Wall Street Journal has previously written about the benefits of reverse mentoring; the practice of pairing upper management with younger employees.
It doesn’t have to just be management though, and businesses throughout the UK understand the benefits of mentoring in the workplace.
Who better to help younger staff learn from mistakes and make them aware of any pitfalls than those who have trodden that well-worn path previously?
It is something Sinead Hasson, Managing Director of recruitment agency, Hasson Associates, firmly believes in.
She said: “The right ‘older’ worker can be a great coach and mentor for a new team member; they have already made all the mistakes so can help younger generations.”
Now we’re not saying older workers make mistakes and aren’t to be trusted. We think the opposite of that. But they will have worked in places and learned lessons that younger staff might not yet have experienced. This input will greatly enhance a business’s success.
It is this meeting of minds that should be taken advantage of – something that would be impossible if employers didn’t take advantage of the benefits of older workers.
Tim Drake believes Millennials and their bright ideas add to the success of a business, but added “it’s important to have those older generations in the mix to mentor, ensuring those great ideas are turned into concrete success stories.
“There’s plenty they can learn from the journeyed mid-life career changers when it comes to leadership, decision making and implementation.”
Diversity of all types is important within a team. The lessons that younger workers can learn from older ones is the foundation to creating a successful business, according to Darren Simmons.
He said: “The best businesses know how to tap into the value that older workers can bring to younger ones by implementing mentoring systems, and we’ve seen a lot of success when firms do this.”
Are older employees valuable in the workplace?
Hopefully, after reading all of that, you’ll come to the conclusion that older employees are very much important! The consensus from employers described their older workers as:
- Highly productive.
- Happy in the workplace.
What has hopefully been displayed is that the type of employees a company hires should not be based on age. In fact, that would be the worst approach and is no guarantee of a return on investment.
In addition, the changing nature of the workforce means older workers should not be readily discarded.
Most importantly, their impact on a business and its success means employers know the advantages they bring, which should guarantee a healthy number are employed in future.