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Towards a more age-friendly workplace.

age-friendly workplace
We are working towards a more age-friendly workplace. Age is often omitted from other diversity and inclusion policies, despite the trend towards longer working lives, but a growing number of employers are keen to discuss the long-term implications of our ageing society and the need to retain experience despite the pressures of Covid-19. 

A recent virtual roundtable hosted by workingwise.co.uk, a jobs and news website for older workers, brought employers and experts in occupational health and support for older workers together to debate everything from tackling ageism in the recruitment process to the need for support for career change in later life.

When it came to recruitment, employers spoke of the difficulty of reaching out to older workers as they didn’t tend to use social media as much as younger workers. One had used local print publications and local radio. Others used internal coaching to identify people who wanted to progress or grow, based on self selection.

Pharmaceutical company Roche spoke about the need to help all candidates, both internal and external, towards greater self awareness of what they bring to the table to help shape a better age-friendly workplace. That might involve helping line managers to get candidates to be more clear about what they are offering and having “rich, adult conversations” rather than typical “jumping over hurdles” interviews. However, coach Judith Wardell, from Time of Your Life, said people often went through their careers without having any opportunity to question what it is they really want to do and where their strengths lie. This, combined with ageist messages which were often internalised, made it difficult for older people to have a clear idea of where to focus job searches, particularly if they are facing redundancy. She said employers needed to do more to show they genuinely want to reach out to this demographic.

One suggestion was that employers making big redundancies could look at setting up specialised teams to deal with those facing redundancy so they could talk about some of these issues and suggest areas people could transition to.

When it came to retention, it was felt that employers needed to do more to ensure people keep developing and feel they are doing something meaningful, which is why well being had to be at the centre of work.

Employers also spoke about the need to ensure part-time workers could progress and to give people different career pathways, not just one road upwards. That needed to be supported by more regular reviews rather than annual appraisals which should be focused on a conversation about what people want to do.

The roundtable also heard from Professor David Blane from Imperial College who asked if the increased state pension age would worsen the health of those who are already ill? He said many older workers have a long-standing, limiting health condition, but employers often do not know about this as there is virtually no occupational health service in the UK. Larger employers have their own occupational health services, but he pointed out that few SMEs have access to occupational health services.

Judith Wardell said that the state pension age will keep going up, final salary schemes have ended and we should stop thinking so much about retirement and focus more on enabling people to keep working as long as they want to. People will need to keep working and good work keeps them healthy and gives people a sense of purpose. She said it was up to employers to create physically and mentally good work that does not make people ill. It’s not just about older people, but about people now in their 20s and 30s. How do we support people through a 50-year career? She asked. For her, it was about normalising reskilling and more radical thinking about workforce potential.

To hear the full discussion of the roundtable on working towards an age-friendly workplace, read the white paper here.

Image used from Centre for Ageing Better’s new free library of positive and realistic images of people aged 50 and over.

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