The workforce in Britain is ageing fast. More than 30 per cent of employees are over 50 years old, and nearly a quarter is over 60. This figure is set to rise to 30.7 per cent by 2020. This demographic shift creates significant challenges.
In the next two decades, a large proportion of employees aged over 50 will leave work forever, while there is unlikely to be a sufficient supply of younger people in Britain to replace them.
These facts cannot be ignored by any employer – retaining older employees is becoming an economic and a social imperative. Companies that are prepared to retain older employees will remain more competitive and diverse, with a greater pool of skills and talent.
However, longer working lives will also mean greater exposure to a variety of health-related risks and the management of issues such as disability provision. The introduction of specific measures to ensure work safety and the efficiency of older employees would have to become a key part of corporate policies.
But it won’t just be about policies. There are some simple and immediate adjustments you can make within your business, and the benefits can be cumulative.
1. Leadership training
Supporting an ageing workforce should start at the top. Market surveys show that older employees are often more motivated, display greater loyalty to the employer, represent lower turnover and are more productive. Therefore, it is essential to challenge existing mindsets that equate older employees with higher-than average costs, illness and less flexibility in adopting new technologies and the latest management thinking.
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2. Adapting the workplace
Regardless of employees’ ages, good ergonomic design of equipment and furniture makes a difference. Passages and floor surfaces can be made safer to minimise the likelihood of falls. And training in appropriate lifting and carrying techniques, restricting physically demanding tasks, as well as allowing shorter and more frequent breaks, will benefit everyone.
3. Transferring knowledge
Retiring employees take with them immense industry knowledge, professional skills and invaluable contacts. One way of retaining this capital is knowledge transfer/mentoring schemes that encourage and motivate both older and younger employees.
4. Working more flexibly
There is a lot of evidence that work is good for mental and physical well-being. However, our needs and professional expectations change as we age and employers can take this into consideration by introducing flexible working practices. Home working, part-time working, job-shares, and phasing-into-retirement initiatives are all aimed at improving work-life balance.
5. Life-long learning
A modern employer should enable and encourage staff of all ages to take part in professional education and training to develop and update their skills, as well as to ensure that they are motivated and challenged by their roles.
Older employees are often given fewer training opportunities than their colleagues, as they are not encouraged to put themselves forward. Line managers should ensure that they receive equal development opportunities.
Truly modern and enlightened employers understand that, by providing an age-friendly working environment, they are creating a committed and motivated workforce of all ages who will work well, age well and stay with you longer.