Do you have a ‘Silver Strategy’? Planning for an older workforce

Retirement used to be a time to put your feet up, to bow out of the labour force, perhaps to enjoy hobbies that you no longer need to fit around work. But it’s becoming increasingly clear that the boundary between working life and retirement is blurring. Businesses are waking up to the need for strategic workforce planning to reconcile an ageing population with a UK skills gap.

Since the 1950s, life expectancy has risen steadily along with the percentage of adult life spent in retirement. But the figures are imbalanced – we have an ageing population and low generational income growth in the UK. By 2050, the UN estimates there will be just two working age people per one older person in Europe.

In the last four years alone, the number of women over 70 in the labour force has doubled. While some of these women choose to continue working, many are working out of financial need, topping up their pensions or making up for gaps in National Insurance contributions they incurred while taking time out to have children.

We can expect to see the trend in older workers continue. Over the next five years, an estimated 14.5 million jobs will be created, but only 7 million younger people will enter the workforce, leaving a 7.5 million shortfall. Last week, Aviva, Barclays, Boots and the Co-op were among the businesses who announced a ‘silver quota’, committing to a 12% increase in the number of over-50s they employ by 2022.

Despite this growing population of older workers, Aviva research tells us that more than three quarters of older workers say there is age discrimination in the workplace. Unfair stereotypes (e.g. older people being less able or slower to learn new technology) are still common – on my way home last week, I overheard two older women discussing their manager: “she thinks over-60s just can’t hack it”.

Combatting conscious and unconscious age bias will only happen when businesses recognise the qualities of an older workforce – a lifetime of experience, knowledge and people skills. They can face unique challenges too, so offering flexibility is a practical way to support an older workforce. Aviva is among the organisations piloting a carer scheme, using a range of initiatives such as flexible working programmes and manager training to support people who may be balancing their work with caring for elderly parents.

Businesses can encourage older workers through diversity and inclusion research, including focus groups and surveys. Running awareness-raising behavioural campaigns can help to change perceptions, while strategic workforce planning allows businesses to develop age-inclusive recruitment and retention practices.

Above all else, organisational research, campaigns and planning must lead to tangible action at a time when workforce demographics are changing. Most of us will be ‘older workers’ one day. Organisations need to lead a cultural shift in attitudes to older workers, creating workplaces which are genuinely inclusive to all.

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Posted on 12th June 2017 in Capability&Culture
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