Despite more than 10 million workers in the UK being over 50 last year this latest research, commissioned by the Centre for Ageing Better, has led to calls for considerable developments in tackling age discrimination within the workplace. The report, which questioned over 1,100 employees over the age of 50, highlighted that many workers feel they are discriminated against because of their age by being denied progression opportunities and having job applications rejected. Furthermore, whilst 40% of the employees asked did admit to knowing their company had a policy preventing age discrimination, a worrying 47% stated that their company’s policy had made no difference.
As life expectancy increases, so too does the amount of time that people are remaining in work. In the UK there is no longer a ‘default retirement age’ and organisations are only able to enforce a ‘compulsory retirement age’ if they have a justifiable and fair reason for doing so, such as a legal age limit or the physical requirements of the role. Whilst some companies may be concerned that an aging workforce can have a negative effect on productivity and can discourage younger applicants from applying, figures gathered by the Department for Work and Pensions demonstrate that the opposite is true. As Ann Wilmott, Age Director of Business in the Community stated, ‘employers are missing a huge trick as older workers offer a rich source of skills and experience.’
Arguably, maintaining and recruiting older workers helps to provide levels of experience that could be highly useful for a company and help to avoid a labour and skills shortage if long-serving members of staff choose to leave. Furthermore, older employees can utilise their experience to help in the training of promising new recruits to the company. This can also be highly beneficial for the UK economy, with research suggesting that halving employment gaps between workers aged 50 to 64 and those in their late 40s could see nominal GDP increase by 1%.
In response to these findings, the Centre for Aging Better, in collaboration with Business in the Community, has encouraged organisations to adopt five steps to counteract discrimination and support older employees:
- Encouraging flexible working
- Actively targeting candidates of all ages
- Ensuring accessibility to full health support
- Providing opportunities for development at all ages
- Creating an age positive culture
This research has been highly praised by the Government’s Business Champion for Older Workers, Andy Briggs, who called it a ‘wake-up call’ and asked companies to ‘face up to the realities of an aging population.’