Opinion

The case for older workers and how businesses can better serve them

3 min read

03 December 2015

Recently Robert De Niro portrayed a man in his 70s beginning an internship in The Intern. In a case of art imitating life, a number of apprenticeship schemes for over 50s, including one with Barclays, have also been announced.

Earlier this year the Office for National Statistics reported that the average age of the UK’s population has hit 40 for the first time, with more than 18 per cent over the age of 65. This means there are now almost as many people in the country over the age of retirement as there are under 16 (19 per cent).

This poses a real challenge for managers, who will need to think about these shifting demographics and how to best address them in the workplace. In the next ten years, it is estimated that 13.5m jobs will be created in Britain, yet only 7m young people are expected to join the labour force. This will result in a significant skills shortage across the wider economy, especially in senior and management positions.   

One solution to this shortage may be to better use older workers and the skills they have amassed over their careers. However despite the numerous benefits that workers over 50 can contribute, many face institutionalised ageism.

ILM’s research report, “Untapped Talent“, released earlier this year, found that most managers have low or very low expectations of their over 50s workers’ chances to progress. This is despite the fact that they are recognised by young and old workers alike as having high levels of occupational knowledge and customer understanding.

Many older workers believe it would be difficult for them to progress, with less than half of them expecting to receive a promotion within the next three years. This is in stark contrast with millennial managers, of whom over three quarters were confident of progression. Yet both generations were equally keen to learn and develop.

These attitudes mean that companies are losing out on the many benefits that multi-generational teams can offer. Age diverse teams have the potential to better reflect the company’s customer base and offer greater client understanding. Of course, multi-generational teams are also imbued with a wealth of different experiences which can lead to improved creativity.  

Addressing the issues associated with institutional ageism will widen the talent pool, keep individuals working longer so delaying or supplementing pensions, contributing to the economy, increasing productivity and tax revenues for the Exchequer.  

There are a number of ways in which managers can make the most of their older workers, including fostering relationships between older and younger workers, phasing retirements and creating an alumni network of retired employees. ILM research shows how flexible working is attractive to all ages.

Investigating and addressing the issues associated with institutional ageism will help companies get the most out of their employees. A business that is inclusive of all ages is one that will foster greater customer service, make the best use of talent, irrespective of age, and create a culture where everyone feels appreciated.

Kate Cooper is the head of research at the Institute of Leadership & Management.