Are we ready for an ageing workforce?

Five key lessons from the launch of a new CIPD report on fuller working lives

The ageing workforce – and how it will affect both the talent pool and organisational life – is one of the most important long-term topics on business agendas. Governments are equally interested in the issues and opportunities it throws up, yet countries are approaching the topic in very different ways. A new CIPD research report, Creating more fulfilling lives for older workers, highlights some salient lessons from five countries, including the UK, on how longer working lives can be mutually beneficial for businesses and their employees. And at an ‘Opportunity of Age’ event this week – attended by Baroness Ros Altmann, minister of state for pensions, alongside a range of other experts – we learned plenty about how employers and societies might prepare for the future:

One in four people in the UK workforce is now aged over 50

By 2030, the number of people in the UK aged 65 and over will have increased by 50 per cent, and the number of people over the age of 85 will have doubled. Longer lives mean longer working lives: the workforce is in a rapid state of change, and organisations must adapt their policies and strategies to accommodate it. “This is one of the biggest shifts affecting the workplace today, and the impact will only increase in the years to come,” said Rachel Suff, the CIPD’s employment relations adviser and author of the report. “HR is at the heart of this business challenge.”

There is a strong business case for retaining and retraining older workers

The UK workforce is continuing to experience significant drop-off rates in employment from the mid-50s onwards. However, the research suggests a pressing business case is developing for people remaining in work for longer. “There is a huge untapped labour pool among older workers,” Suff said. “Our research shows a large number of workers feel they can benefit from staying in work for longer, in terms of social interaction and financial wellbeing.”

Longer working lives will result in more flexible career paths

As professional aspirations and physical capabilities change with age, organisational flexibility is paramount. “There needs to be an opportunity to work in different ways as you get older, with more flexibility and part-time opportunities,” said Altmann.

A functional older workforce will be reliant on reskilling older workers and providing recruitment opportunities so they can re-enter the workforce. “When workers reach a certain age in Denmark, they have a discussion about aspirations and expectations for their working future,” Suff said. “They enable a dialogue throughout their lives so older workers don’t feel singled out when they hit a certain age.”

Organisations must think about the wellbeing needs of an older workforce

“There is still a conscious bias and stereotyping around older workers, and employers need a more holistic and strategic response,” said Altmann. “Managers will have to cater for individual issues, such as support for older women going through the menopause, and develop ways in which people can have caring responsibilities and still work.” She suggested it might be possible to revive the idea of ‘eldercare’ vouchers – first mooted around a decade ago – which would provide tax breaks for those who have elderly dependants in the same way new parents benefit from childcare vouchers.

Older employees will not reduce job opportunities for millennials

Altmann dismissed concerns that investing in older workers would result in a shift away from millennial recruitment as a ‘myth’. “The idea that there is a fixed number of jobs in any economy is just not accurate,” she said, stressing that neglecting the older workforce would be harmful, rather than beneficial, to the younger generation.

“The business case for why this matters is about access to talent in the workforce, and  making sure it serves organisations,” added CIPD chief executive Peter Cheese. “There are terrible existing age biases in business, across the age spectrum and different sectors, particularly when organisations are downsizing. This is not a uniform challenge, and it must be addressed.”

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