We need to be focusing on retention as much as recruitment to meet older workers target

This week, Andy Briggs, the Government’s Business Champion for Older Workers, called on UK employers to commit to his previously announced target of one million more older workers into the labour market by 2022. Briggs has called on UK businesses to publish the number and percentage of older workers in their workforce, and the target means employers will need to aim to recruit 12% more workers over 50 years old in the next five years.

As well as focusing on recruitment of older workers, we know from our CIPD research that employers need to get better at retaining experienced, talented people, many of whom are at the top of their game. A focus on recruitment needs to be explicitly balanced with attention on retention. In short, we need to enable people to stay in work when they want to and not feel they need to leave the labour market in the first place. Without attention on the factors affecting retention, the risk is we will recruit people who could become dissatisfied, disillusioned and ultimately leave.

We know that certain industries are highly reliant on workers over 50, who constitute a significant proportion of their current workforce, but that they struggle to retain them. These include education, health and social work, public admin and defence, transport and storage and manufacturing. The challenges faced by different sectors and of course individual organisations makes me question whether a blanket recruitment target is appropriate for all when some employers may benefit from a fundamental review of their retention issues?

Both recruitment and retention require a critical review of our existing people management approaches and practices. We know we’re facing longer working lives, but the real challenge is how we ensure longer working lives are also more fulfilling and we need to make sure that they are appropriate for what is essentially a new employee group for many companies, especially those people working past the old default retirement age. Inclusive people practices that support age diversity are critical for the retention of experienced people who have significant potential to contribute to the productivity of organisations. Ongoing dissemination of ‘what works’ and case study examples of practice across sectors that highlights the importance of both the recruitment and retention of older workers is vital to drive change in a sustainable way.

While I think the ‘commit and publish’ pledge will help focus attention on a growing and increasingly important talent pool (given population ageing and expected restrictions on employers’ ability to recruit talent across the EU) it’s vital that it continues to be underpinned by people management support and guidance to help businesses both retain experienced people and manage an increasingly age diverse workforce effectively.

Our research has highlighted 4 people management areas that organisations need to prioritise in order to ensure they are inclusive when it comes to older workers, and are able to retain talented recruits:

1. Build an inclusive culture
Despite the abolition of the default retirement age, some negative myths and misconceptions endure about the needs and wants of older workers. We need to be overtly challenging behaviour and assumptions of this kind and creating a culture where the benefits of age diversity are appreciated. In a recent survey, employees told us they enjoyed working with colleagues of different ages.

Line managers should be trained to ensure that they are able to meet the needs of a diverse workforce and feel confident in flexing their management style as needed, especially in support of flexible working arrangements. They need to make the effort to understand why people are working longer, what they are looking for in a job and ensure the work is fulfilling and provides a purpose – after all, they’re key components of ‘good work’.

2. Offer more flexible working
A wealth of research tells us that flexible working help people in a wide range of circumstances stay in or return to work. For example, an increasing number of workers over 50 years old are going to be caring for older parents or ill relatives, some people may face ill-health themselves and need to rethink their work-life balance, and many people are looking for a phased rather than cliff-edge approach to retirement. Communicating to employees that a more flexible approach to where and when we work is possible and also thinking about the kind of work people do that makes best us of their knowledge and experience, is a win-win for employee and the business.

3. Supporting the health and well-being of older workers
Although we can’t and shouldn’t make assumptions about individuals, we know that for some people poor health can be a major factor prompting retirement and also that good health can be a pull or push factor from the workplace. We need to be prepared to make reasonable workplace adjustments when necessary and also think more broadly about how existing approaches to supporting employee health and well-being can be extended to cater for this employee group.

4. Development
Everyone needs training to keep their skills up to date and enable them to progress and develop their career. Older workers are less likely than their younger colleagues to take part in training, either because they are not offered opportunities to train, they are not encouraged to take part as much and they might not put themselves forward for training opportunities as much as younger people. Are line managers in your organisation having career conversations with all of their team in support of life-long learning?

Thank you for your comments. There may be a short delay in this going live on the blog page as we moderate the comments added to our blogs.

  • Thanks for your posts Mari and Sharon - totally agree about needing to treat people as individuals and not make group-wide assumptions, and about the need to be offering training and development opportunities on potential, not on age.

  • Thanks Jill. I enjoyed this article so much I wanted to post.  I believe we will start to focus more on individuals and less on groups in the future.  It's not helpful, though it might be expedient, to say all millennials want this or all older workers want that.  That said, I see almost an exclusive focus on talent = young when really talent lies in all areas, levels and demographics of businesses.  We also need to realise that everyone in a business can and should play their part.  I heard a senior lecturer commenting they felt they should make way for the younger generation, almost like they were a blocker to younger people's progression.  I found that a little sad.  If they want to work, perhaps there is a way to work share/mentor and harness talents and skills to support the pipeline for the future as you talk about here.  As more older people want, have or need to work longer, I imagine these feelings and greater prejudice towards older people will become more prevalent.  That makes me sad, not least because I will be one of those older people still wanting to learn and contribute for as long as possible.

  • Excellent article Jill and thank you for addressing the subject. Too many organisations disregard the needs of older workers, eliminating them from training programs and being overly concerned with recruiting and managing new 'talent' when they could be tapping into older workers experience by involving them in the process to the benefit of all.