Older Workers – The Benefits of Age Diversity

As part of our work on diversity in the workforce, ekosgen has recently completed a study to examine how the skills of older workers can be maximised to benefit them and the economy. For more information on this, and our diversity work, contact Pamela Reid at pamela.reid@ekosgen.co.uk or 0845 120 6244.

In recent years there has been a shift away from early retirement and a growing interest in how to extend working lives. Increasingly, we are taking a functional, performance-based approach to determine when an individual stops working – rather than it being driven by age. There have been some high profile examples of companies actively recruiting, training and employing older workers – we all know about B&Q’s drive and success in this area, It along with companies like Sainsbury’s BT and Marks and Spencer have long done away with a default retirement age.

Smart employers know that by actively recruiting older workers, they can reach in to a wider recruitment pool which will go some way to addressing skills gaps and shortages. They recognise that older workers bring skills, experience, knowledge and valuable corporate memory. Younger colleagues can learn from them and older employees are just as productive as their younger counterparts. A diverse workforce means there is a balance of views and perspectives coupled with a variety of approaches, outlooks and styles. When a team includes people who think differently they look at problems from different angles, bring different perspective and reach solutions that a more homogenous team might miss. As well as these harder benefits, employers recognise that being seen to support and actively encourage older workers is a positive PR story and means that the workforce better matches the profile of customers and clients.

But it’s not just employers who stand to gain. For individuals and households, staying in work enhances financial and housing security. It mitigates the risk of social isolation amongst older people and helps them to stay mentally and physically active. Employment also brings a sense of personal satisfaction and feeling valued and valuable. It undoubtedly contributes to intergenerational collaboration and understanding which benefits society as a whole. Added to that the pensions time bomb is a huge issue in the UK.  Too may people are approaching retirement without adequate savings.  They are in poor health and are at risk of experiencing increased inequality.  Coupled with this, we are living longer, the state retirement age is increasing, and this ageing society contributes to pressure on the public purse.  By enabling older people to remain in or re-enter the workforce, by helping to keep them active, healthy and financially secure, they may be less likely to need health and social care interventions, and at the same time, they can save more for their retirement and contribute to tax revenue.

There are also wider benefits to the economy and society. Increasing the labour pool contributes to the sustainability and resilience of key services, such as health and social care and education. It also supports strong sector development by ensuring a sustainable pool of labour and enhances regional productivity.  And of course, the income generated through employment is spent in the local economy, creating multiplier effects.

This all makes perfect sense, but the context has shifted as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic. Specific employment data is not yet available to indicate the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on employment by age and the furlough scheme is currently masking the true impacts. We know from previous recessions, that ageism (and other forms of discrimination) rears its head, especially when it comes to redundancies. We also know that once they become unemployed, older workers find it significantly more difficult to return to work than younger people. And if Covid-19 means a permanent and  significant shift to online working then digital skills will be even more important – and there may the perception that younger people are better equipped in a more digitally enabled and reliant workplace.

As we build back from the impact of the pandemic, and through any economic downturn, we have the potential to build back better, creating age diverse workplaces and age inclusive cultures where people of all ages can thrive.