DOs and DON’Ts for managing older workers

(Ron Harvey) everett225

Photo: everett225 (Ron Harvey)

Previously, I wrote about managing younger workers. ‘Gen Y’, ‘Millennials’ (or however they’re described where you work) have been the subject of much research and opinion for nearly 10 years now. They make up the majority of Zoomly’s workshop participants, so I like to think I know them pretty well. But there’s another group challenging Gen Y for the headlines – older workers, particularly Baby Boomers like me.

Why? Because there are millions of us. And we won’t be going away any time soon.

Here in the UK, almost a quarter of the population will be aged 65 or over within the next 15 years, according to the Office for National Statistics. Within 5 years or less, a third of UK workers will be over 50. Some will be much older: the employment rate for the UK’s 70-74 age group has doubled in 10 years to over a quarter of a million. Five generations in the workplace will be the new normal. So what should employers and managers of older workers watch out for?

DO factor age into diversity efforts

The imperative for greater diversity at work isn’t just about gender and ethnicity; age is also an element that enlightened employers will factor into their plans and aim to achieve sooner rather than later. For example, employers such as Barclays, McDonalds and The Co-op have removed age limits from apprenticeship schemes (and the forthcoming apprenticeship levy will make funding available ‘regardless of the age of the worker’). Will this mean that older workers sticking around will ‘job block’ younger workers? Not so, say Age UK, who argue there is “genuinely minimal evidence to support the lump of labour [theory]’. Typically, workers’ earnings rise, level and then decrease with age, so it may be that older workers swap seats with younger colleagues.

DON’T assume older workers want to retire

With the abolition of the Default Retirement Age (DRA), and the on-going levelling out of the gender gap in the State Pension Age (SPA), older workers are able to work for longer. Early retirement – offering financial inducements to exit older workers and free up space for younger workers – is already becoming a thing of the past. What’s more, age is a protected characteristic under UK employment law – whether discrimination is on the grounds of youth or old age – so employers cannot target specific age groups for job cuts. Extending working lives is generally good news economically and can raise GDP  (according to PwC).

DO provide training and development

To keep older workers productive, employers will need to work with them to constantly update their skills and knowledge, just as they do with younger workers. In some cases, they may need to retrain extensively for a different or brand new role. Remember that being the trainer is also valuable CPD; older workers can help plug skills gaps and pass on their knowledge and skills to others (Acas has some down to earth advice on this) . And reverse mentoring (where the young teach their elders) can be a wonderful thing. Younger managers of older employees may well need development support to ensure they manage fairly and consistently, and overcome any assumptions they may unwittingly have around age=seniority.

DON’T assume older workers won’t need to earn

They may have paid off the mortgage – or not. They may have built up a substantial pension pot – or not. Even with their personal finances in good shape, most older workers will still need to earn money, whether that’s to cover the high cost of care fees for older relatives, help support younger family members getting started, or simply to visit all those places on their bucket list (just ask them – it’s a long list!). Few will relish the idea of living much longer on far less income.

DO embrace flexible working

It’s not just parents of young children who will be asking for flexible working. Many older workers have carer responsibilities for spouses and/or relatives young or old. Like most workers, they would welcome the opportunity to work more flexibly. Enlightened employers offer flexibility wherever the business can accommodate it.

You may find this blog post useful: DOs and DONT’s for managing younger workers

Dawn is the author of ‘The Feedback Book’, available now at bookstores and on Amazon

Comments are closed.