Crunch time for Britain’s workforce: Employers need to step up support to retain valuable older workers and working carers

With people living longer and fewer young people entering the labour market, Britain’s employers are increasingly reliant on the skills and talents of older workers to boost productivity. However, the ageing population also means that there will be an estimated nine million carers in the UK by 20371, many of whom will be trying to juggle both care and employment.

This is according to new research released today by the CIPD, the professional body for HR and people development. It finds that, although the UK’s policy framework for supporting older workers and creating fuller working lives is well-developed in comparison to many other European countries, there is a crucial need to turn this thinking into practical action from organisations, to avoid losing the skills and experience of employees who choose to work beyond retirement. With around 30% of the UK workforce currently over 50, compared to 20% in the 1990s2 , the CIPD is urging employers to put the tools and culture in place now, to support older workers as they represent and increasingly significant proportion of the labour market.

The CIPD’s report is being launched today by Baroness Ros Altmann CBE, Minister of State for Pensions and former Government Business Champion for Older Workers. It explores employer practice towards older workers across five European countries: Czech Republic, Denmark, France, Germany and the UK. It found that those in the group age 40+ and 50+ face the greatest care demands, but are also key to the labour force due to their experience. The CIPD is warning that the economy cannot afford to lose them, so it is up to employers to create attractive working situations, which take into account these external responsibilities, and enable people to stay in work.

Rachel Suff, CIPD Employment Relations Adviser, comments: “We need to legitimise and support working carers and their place in the labour market. These individuals account for an increasing share of the UK’s workforce, but often feel uncomfortable talking about their situation which results in it being a hidden issue. Employers have a responsibility to raise awareness and train line managers to support employees with caring responsibilities and help them to stay in work. They also need to foster an open and inclusive culture, where employees feel supported, rather than in fear of how external factors might affect their job. Ideally, employers should develop an approach that values people for who they are, whatever their age or personal circumstances, and aims to support them in achieving harmony between their needs and desires inside and outside the workplace.

“Flexible working is key to extending working life for people in a wide range of circumstances, and should be a critical component of any strategy to support working carers. This doesn’t just mean offering non-traditional hours, it’s also about creating more flexibility in roles and areas of responsibility which enable people to cope with their personal and professional commitments.”

As well as more support for working carers, all five countries recognised a growing need to address the wider issue of how to optimise older workers’ active participation in the labour market and support increasingly extended working lives. Older workers still experience prejudice from employers, colleagues and society in general, with stereotypical attitudes often reflecting misconceptions about their flexibility, health, ability to learn and their general skills and qualification levels. The research shows the scope for creating more age-inclusive workplaces in the UK – indeed, CIPD research has shown that employees value working in an age-diverse organisation, with benefits such as knowledge-sharing, enhanced customer experience and different perspectives.

Suff continues: “We need to encourage all employers to see older workers as an opportunity rather than a challenge. With a wealth of experience and transferable expertise, they can benefit the wider workforce and the business as a whole. Although it can be challenging for employers to counter people’s broader societal perceptions, ignoring the issues can hinder effective, intergenerational working.

“The Government has already made significant reforms to create fuller working lives but we need to speed up progress to make this a reality. Employers have a responsibility to create an inclusive and age-diverse working environment where people of all generations feel comfortable and appreciated by management and their peers, regardless of age. The HR profession is in a perfect position to embed these cultural changes and stimulate the creation of workforces that can flex and adapt to meet the needs of all employees.”

The findings of the report are being launched today with a supporting briefing with recommendations for UK policy at a breakfast panel event with Minister for Pensions, Baroness Ros Altmann. It is being held to discuss ways that employers and Government can progress the agenda of enabling and supporting an ageing workforce that brings value to individuals, organisations, economies and societies as a whole.

Minister for Pensions, Baroness Ros Altmann said: “Employers should take advantage of the skills and experience that older workers can bring to the workplace. This is why we are developing an employer-led strategy with some of the UK’s biggest employers to ensure older workers get the support they need to be able to enjoy fuller working lives. With today’s report, I am delighted to have the CIPD’s support in raising awareness and understanding amongst employers of the value that older workers can bring.”

The report uses case studies from organisations in different European countries to find examples of inspirational employer practice on key areas to support full working lives. These include:

  • Health and wellbeing - It’s important that employers don’t have pre-conceived ideas about older workers’ health, while at the same time being aware that workplace adjustments may be needed to help workers with health issues return to or stay in work. Safran in France carries out health assessments for older workers, for example
  • Education and training - employers need to ensure older workers are not overlooked for training and that they receive development opportunities to progress their careers. If their skills and competencies are kept up to date, older workers will be more motivated and feel better equipped to remain in work. In the Czech Republic, the Government provides tax concessions for employers if they provide further training for older workers
  • Line manager training - training line managers is most important because they typically implement policies on a day-to-day basis and regulate access to support and adjustment mechanisms for older workers to enable them to extend their working lives. In the UK, Steelite International has an age management policy in which line managers receive guidance on avoiding age discrimination, with most choosing to participate in dedicated training
  • Mid-life career review – as recommended by Ros Altmann, a mid-life career review can be a key way for employers to retain and retrain older workers. In Denmark, many employers hold ‘senior conversations’ with older employees, to discuss their plans for the future. This enables employers to put the right adjustments and initiatives in place to retain employees, who in turn feel they can adapt their role or working hours to support their aspirations for the future

Download the full report


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[1] Carers UK 2015

[2] ONS Labour Force Survey

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