CIPD Podcast 88 - Thinking strategically about age diversity

Date: 04/03/14 Duration: 00:20:39

In this podcast Judy Greevy from HMRC, Marcus Lee from Santander and CIPD's Dianah Worman discuss how organisations need to formulate a strategic response to an age-diverse workforce.

Dianah Worman gives us a picture of the age profile of UK workers, and also talks through some of the results from recent CIPD research. Judy Greevy talks about HMRC award-winning approach to age diversity, including workshops that address common misconceptions about younger and older workers. Marcus Lee talks about Santander's impressive endeavours to offer opportunities to young people, and also their focus on ‘re-careerers’ who might consider a move into banking later in life. 


Philippa Lamb: Should someone’s age dictate how you manage them? A great deal has been said and written about how generation Y differs from generation X, the jobs they want, the way they work, the skills they bring, and what motivates them to really commit and excel. But is HR tending to stereotype workers of different ages? And is senior management really thinking hard enough about how to turn age diversity to its advantage? 

Dianah Worman is the CIPD’s public policy adviser on diversity and she's in no doubt about the business case for digging deeper into questions like that. When I spoke to her recently I asked her for a snapshot of the age profile of UK Plc right now. 

Dianah Worman Well the average age of the population is changing, we're all getting older, living longer, healthier lives in the main, which means that the ages of the people in the labour market are also changing so this impact will impact significantly on the way in which organisations need to respond. So there'll be more of us who are in our mid 40s than there have ever been before. 

PL: You've been researching this is the sense you’re getting that organisations are thinking about this? 

DW: Well it’s a mixed picture. To a large extent there is a positive response saying, “Yes we are thinking about it,” an assumption from both employers and employees that yes this is an issue that's being addressed but it’s largely based on perception rather than real fact. So if we think we're doing all right are we really? 

PL: I asked Dianah if she felt that organisations were being rigorous enough in their response to age diversity? 

DW: I think a lot of responses have been made in organisations, particularly the big corporates because of age legislation but I think where we have got a problem is the lack of understanding about the business case arguments, responding differently about the way you manage your talent pipeline. 

PL: So as you say people are focused on the legal and the age discrimination does that also mean that they’re more focused on the older end of their workforce than the younger? 

DW: It could be because there is a nervousness about making sure that you’re not illegally keeping people out who are older and maybe some organisations have taken their eye off the ball about the younger end of the labour market and the reasons for that may be mixed and varied because of perceptions about younger people now where I think the stereotyping is informing behaviour there. And the issue of stereotypes about older people actually having changed too and become far more positive than they were a couple of decades ago which is great news, that's really good. So it looks like we have to do some important changes of thinking regarding young people too. 

PL: The language that's used around this subject may well be contributing to the problem. We're all so familiar with terms like generation X, generation Y, and Z but is there a danger of stereotyping people with terms just like that? Just as employers used to stereotype on the basis of differentiators such as gender, ethnicity and disability. Dianah Worman again. 

DW: If you make assumptions about everybody who’s in a certain age category you’re going to go off in the wrong direction because we're all individuals at the end of the day. So no matter what you do to find out more you then have to step back and say, “But we are talking about individuals.” So regardless of your actual age what you need as a person is not going to be the same as your age contemporary. 

PL: An age diverse organisation means a strong likelihood of age diverse teams and I asked Dianah what the CIPD’s own research says about how well teams like that tend to work. 

DW: When we talk to employers and HR people and we talk to individual employees there are some differences there. I mean I think there are certainly good things being recognised in terms of benefits which is great it’s just the extent to which they’re reported that there's a difference. So for example the benefits are seen as knowledge sharing, issues about different ideas and different perspectives and so on. And individual employees themselves see those positive factors far more strongly than HR sees them. And I think that's probably the difference between being at the coalface as the employee, actually involved in a diverse team and actually looking at it from a greater distance, perhaps through more formal observation than direct observation. And that's an indication of the need for HR to be far more, if you like, active as a business partner and far more acutely aware of how to be business savvy about this issue. So HR working more with the line, I think is a way we need to go forward. 

PL: And asking a lot more questions. 

DW: And asking a lot more questions. So if people are saying, “Yeah it’s absolutely great that there's greater knowledge sharing and that's of value, new ways of doing things, new solutions,” and so on and so forth. That is very rich and if employees are recognising that that's terrific. And I think we're missing a trick by not mining that much more successfully against the background that other responses are suggesting that line managers themselves are not trained to manage diversity in those age diverse teams. And some are very good at it but there's certainly a larger number who are not seen as very good at it. So hey, you know, we could be doing a hell of a lot more to create innovation in organisations by cultivating that kind of training and that kind of ability amongst line managers and we all know, from all the stuff about growth that innovation is absolutely pivotal. Innovation isn’t just about really exciting new ideas say in IT, it’s about innovation within the workforce itself. 

PL: As with so many issues in HR it’s essential that line managers are trained and supported to handle age diversity. This isn’t only key to manage age diversity teams properly but also to be able to harness their knowledge and achieve the best possible results for the business. I asked Dianah which sectors she feels are leading the way here.

DW: I think the finding suggests that the voluntary sector is really very good at making sure that they have regular one to one conversations with employees which you might not expect because you kind of wouldn’t expect to have as many formalised processes for doing this. I'm not saying it is formal but they do have these regular conversations and that's really good stuff. 

PL: Why do you think that is? 

DW: Well I'm not so sure but my speculation could be that if you want to work in voluntary section you do it not for the money you do it because of your sense of purpose, the fact that you’re making a difference. So you’re really intrinsically motivated to do your work and you want to do it well. Now if that is the case, and I'm not saying it doesn’t exist in other sectors, but the regular one to one conversation kind of is good news because it will foster a continued connection that individuals in the voluntary sector have with their jobs. 

PL: Is it also because in the voluntary sector you get a lot of young, highly motivated people working as you say not for the money they tend to duck out in mid life because they have mortgages and families and need higher salaries, and then come back in again if they can when they’re older, when the money is less of an issue so perhaps they do have a more polarised age profile? 

DW: Potentially that could be the case it’s why do you have people working in the voluntary sector? Well as you were suggesting for a variety of reasons but I think it is that thing to make a difference, that it’s a good job, or maybe some, particularly younger people feel they can get some experience of doing work in the voluntary sector which might stand them in good stead for moving into the private sector or the public sector into what they might see as a real job with money earning capacity at a different stage in their lives. 

PL: So they’re quite markedly age diverse. 

DW: Well they seem to be but certainly and what I thought was good was this kind of connection between the individuals working in the organisation and the way in which they tend to be supported. 

PL: In a moment we’ll be hearing how two very different organisations address the question of age. Our first case study comes from the private sector, Marcus Lee is head of resourcing, people and talent for Santander and he explained the age profile at the bank. 

Marcus Lee: So the typical age of one of our colleagues at Santander is 36. And they have typically been with us for eight years which is slightly different to the people that we actually hire from, so typically our average age of a recruit is 28, so slightly younger. Around about 15% of our employees are aged over 50 and then we hire around about 500 people a year who are aged below 20. So we're very confident around the individuals we do bring into the organisation particularly in that younger demographic. 

PL: So is your age profile where you would like it to be? 

ML: We need to ensure that we hire from the widest talent pool and we need to ensure that we have a demographic that is representative of our customer base. Now if you consider that around about half of Santander’s customers are aged over 50 then to only have 15% of our colleague base aged over 50 isn’t necessarily consistent.

PL: I asked Marcus what policies are in place at Santander on age. 

ML: There are almost a million young people currently out of work so without question there is an excellent pipeline for us there to hire into. And we do hire with some confidence in that age demographic and that is also where you see the majority of our programmes. And it’s not that they are exclusively for people in that 16 to 24 age bracket but that is where the majority of people apply to those roles. 

PL: And what sort of things are we talking about? 

ML: So it’s talking about apprenticeships, so you can come on board with us and you can work in our retail environment, you can work in our contact centres, and you can undertake an NVQ around customer services and understanding financial services and that's something where we would expect to hire between two and three hundred people a year onto that type of apprenticeship. Now whilst typically we are seeing that applicants are aged between 16 and 24 it’s certainly not exclusive. We also have a school leaver programme where people who typically have completed their A level studies who are not looking to go on to university we can offer them a different type of career where you can achieve chartered banking status through a diploma which is of degree equivalent and we’d like to offer that to individuals as well. We also have the more traditional graduate routes. We offer internships. We're doing much more work on work experience this year and we are offering 600 work experience placements over the next two years which are really giving people an opportunity to understand what it could be like to work at an organisation like Santander. And from that we'd expect that to feed three different types of pipeline. One of them could be our apprenticeship route. One of them could be our school leaver programme. One of them could be a direct hire. And what we're seeing across the industry working with Lloyds, Barclays, HSBC and other financial services organisations is that we're all committed as an industry to making a difference in this space around recruiting younger people, particularly people who are from socially disadvantaged backgrounds as well. 

PL: So Santander is clearly working hard to recruit younger people but for business reasons specific to their commercial strategy they’re also interested in recruiting people thinking about a change of direction later on in their careers. 

ML: Re-careerers [sic] is a very important to us. What we see typically there is great advantage in tenure. When you look at the more experienced people who work in our branch network or our contact centres because they are more experienced their knowledge is often better and therefore what we see is their customer service results and the way they engage with customers is better. Their risk scores are often better. They give better advice to people. That comes through experience. So I think what’s important to us is that we look to hire people that want to stay with the organisation. However what we are mindful of and we do monitor all of our statistics round recruitment is we don’t seem to be getting a strong enough pipeline from people applying to us who are reflective of our customer base, who are perhaps aged over 50. 

PL: Why do you think that is? 

ML: It’s an interesting question. I think that how often do people really consider that you would change careers. So you have someone who is aged 45 they are potentially only halfway through their career. Halfway through your career why wouldn’t you go and do something really different? That’s a brave move for an individual to think in that way. 

PL: This year HM Revenue and Customs won an award from the Employers’ Network for Equality and Inclusion for the approach it had taken on age. Judy Greevy is deputy director for engagement and diversity for HMRC and I asked her what prompted management to turn their attention to the issue now? 

Judy Greevy: As part of the normal work that we do monitoring and looking at the data for our organisation we looked in much more detail around the age profile. I think because when we just looked at the initial data it began to show to us that there actually was an issue and that we had a large number of our employees who were in the older age range and less than we perhaps would ideally have in the younger age range. So therefore this really stood out as being something we needed to think about but think about more in a very strategic sense of what did that really mean? What were the implications of the fact that we had over 35% of our staff were aged over 50 what would that mean as they all moved towards retirement? What would that mean in terms of us retaining the right professional skills, the right expertise, where was the talent coming from? Where was the pipeline to succeed from these people? How are we going to manage this in the future? And equally what were we going to do in terms of attracting younger people to balance the workforce? So those were some of the initial questions and then leading on from that the whole piece about retaining knowledge in the organisation was another key thing that we thought about. And equally an idea that we must acknowledge that more people were now managing people who were older. And was this significant? It might not have been but perhaps we needed to think about it. And particularly probably around issues about myths and were there myths around what it was like to manage older people. Did older people react differently in the workplace to youngers? Was it true to say that older people didn’t manage change as well? Some of those things and we really felt that that was something we also needed to address. So a cultural issue really as well as one that was actually a very pragmatic one about how do we continue to run an efficient organisation into the future if we don’t actually look at this as one of the major issues we need to address. 

PL: So a great example of how analytics and the way you look at analytics can really inform business practice within HR. Judy told me what happened next. 

JG: We grouped together to have a working group to look at this and to look at the data. We did a very good piece of basic research, actually identifying what the issues were then using this working group to say what should we do. And then actually what we did hold was what we called an Age Summit where we called all our senior leaders together and held a day where we just focused on this whole issue of age and the whole range of age. So at no point were we saying age equals old, or age equals young, or young is good and old is bad but let’s just look at this and what do we feel are the implications of this? And to get the senior leaders to talk about it and in the process of doing some of that we did some more fun things. We did some stuff about myth busting. We did some work that actually said, you know, some sort of questions out to people about what did they think about certain questions. And then from the data we had we could say that that isn’t true. 

PL: What sort of things. 

JG: Was it true that older people took more time off sick? And that wasn't true. Was it true that older people were less engaged than younger people? That wasn't true. 

PL: So these myths, and I'll just stop you there for a sec, did you get the sense they really were embedded in the organisation or was this just myths that are in society generally that you thought you’d address? 

JG: We took it more from myths in society generally. We hadn't got any particular information or views that that was particularly prevalent in the organisation but having said that one would expect that what is normally seen to be perceived, what’s talked about in the press… 

PL: Is in your organisation. 

JG: Is probably going to be in our organisation. So let’s challenge some of that but actually let’s look at the data and see does it prove some of that? Does it show any of that as being true? Quite interesting I think to make people really think about what are their either conscious or unconscious biases that come around the whole issue of age? And so it was really just getting people to actually begin to have a think and senior leaders to actually consider that's very true, you know, how do I think about these different people in my organisation? 

PL: And were there myths about younger people as well because we all know the myths about older workers don’t we? 

JG: Yeah I think there were myths about younger people. There were definitely myths about younger people sometimes being less committed. Younger people occasionally taking more time off, you know, the Monday morning syndrome after a heavy weekend. That sort of thing. 

PL: Duvet days. 

JG: Exactly duvet days, that sort of piece. Positive myths about, you know, younger people definitely being up for change and definitely being the ones that would be interested in what was new and actually that wasn't necessarily the case. And when you talk to people and talk to the leaders they could give you good examples at all ends, you know, all age ranges of people that were either really enthusiastic about change and keen to get involved and were always there and that was not something that went with age. And I think the other thing about young people and old people is sometimes this whole piece about where the experience is and actually there's different experience that is really important for a growing organisation. Yes there's the experience that comes with age because you've seen lots of things and you've done lots of things and you've probably studied quite a lot, particularly some of our highly professional people. But equally with young people there's different experience, there's greater knowledge of the use of technology. Now that’s something that is really good and needs to be shared and brought in. There’s that challenge that comes from you can do something differently because I've seen it done differently in either what I did at university, what I do with my friends, how I see some social media and other things work. So I think there's different experience in its broadest sense is varied and I think one has to acknowledge that, use that. 

PL: So how did this process go down at HMRC and what are they still hoping to achieve? Well Judy was quick to point out that despite winning the ENEI award there is still plenty more work to do. 

JG: What we've done so far is surface some of the key areas that we need to look at because when you talk about age because it covers everybody and all ages you could uncover a myriad of things, you therefore have to think about what is the couple of things that we really need to look at. And I think one of them at the minute is very much about this younger generation piece, how does that look. 

PL: Right. Recruiting. 

JG: Recruiting. 

PL: And the whole pipeline. 

JG: And the whole pipeline, how we do that, how we do that better in the future, what is it about being an attractive organisation, what do we need to do about working practices, what do we already do that's really very attractive and perhaps we don’t necessarily market it as well as we might because we are really very good at flexible working and different ways of working and we probably don’t get that image out enough as we perhaps should. So some of those things and it’s that end of the scale. And I think then at the other end it’s very much about what are we doing about making sure that we retain the expertise and knowledge or at least make sure that's retained in the organisation. 

PL: And how are you attempting to make that happen? 

JG: Well we already had a very good programme where we do partial retirement and we've been doing that for a number of years, and so very much allowing people to run down to retirement and that's a really good way of making sure that you don’t have a cliff edge when all of a sudden you've got lots of really, really, highly professional, highly skilled people with you one day and the next day they’re gone. So you retain that. And that's one of the key things that we're already doing and we're looking at how we use that better. But I think the other thing is also about how do we do this piece of sharing knowledge with others. So how do you do that making sure mentoring, the coaching piece, actually even identifying what are the key bits of knowledge that certain people have. Because in our sort of organisation like a number of organisations like us certain people will have really key knowledge that has come from a wealth of experience of dealing with certain issues over a long time and you almost need to identify some of that and think those are some key things we need to retain. So there's a bit of work about what is the knowledge management that we need to do and how do we do that. 

PL: That's it for this month

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