September 9, 2016

How can organisations keep older workers engaged and productive?

There are more people aged 50-74 in the workplace than ever before – 9.4 million, which is 3.7 million more than 20 years ago, according to Labour Force Survey Statistics.

And the numbers are only going to rise. By 2022, the number of workers aged between 50 and state pension age will have risen to 13.8 million. So says the report ‘A New Vision for Older Workers: Retain, Retrain, Recruit’, as carried out by Dr Ros Altmann, CBE Business Champion for Older Workers, on behalf of the Government. Moreover, the number of those working aged 16-49 will have fallen by 700,000 by 2022.

Yet, most of the research and stories about the workplace tend to focus on younger generations – what Generation Y want from a career, maternity leave, paternity leave and so on. But, what about the older workers, those who have such an important, prominent role to play for many years yet?

The Government thinks there needs to be a revolution in terms of how employees and employers, young and old, view the workplace and how later life working is approached. That’s why it asked Dr Ros Altmann to assume the role as Business Champion for Older Workers so that she could drive the required culture change.

HR obviously has a very important role to play here. It needs to champion the rights and needs of older workers, make sure they are managed effectively and that their needs are met so that they remain engaged and productive. After all, not only will they make up a substantial part of the workforce, they also improve the diversity of the workplace and can offer some different skills and experiences than their younger counterparts.

The Government and Nice (National Institute for Health and Care Excellence) advise that employers remember to treat all employees on an individual basis, regardless of age. However, with older workers it is important that HR ensures that their skills are topped up. Offer and encourage older workers to do some training if their job role changes or if their skills are looking dated. Be proactive about providing skills regeneration and send a clear message to older workers that you are just as keen to invest in their skills and development as younger workers.

Make sure that neither yourselves as HR professionals nor line managers fall into the trap of assuming that ‘You can’t teach an old dog new tricks’. It simply isn’t true that older workers find it harder to learn new skills or look at problems in a different light.

In fact, older workers may be very good at looking at problems in a different light as they have years of experience, including experience of seeing problems resolved. Maturity brings many benefits, including the ability to stay calm and not get rattled by obstacles.

Older workers also make very good mentors and may be more willing to put in the necessary time and effort to coach others in the workplace, particularly in those vital face to face communication and presentation skills needed by a younger generation that has spent a lot of time hooked up to technology.

Another advantage of having been in work for a long time is that those people have large and broad professional networks. Those networks benefit them, benefit the organisation and can be used to benefit younger colleagues as well.

And last but definitely not least – older workers could teach younger workers a thing or two about work ethics. A 2010 Pew Research Center Survey, found that nearly six in 10 respondents said work ethic was one of the major differences between young and old workers. Guess who came out on top? Older workers, according to three-fourths of respondents.