Age is more than a number for older employees


July 4th, 2012

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Gary Miles says older workers are an asset for organisations that shouldn’t be ignored in a blog first published on People Management online

There is a record number of over-65s in the workplace, according to the Office for National Statistics – demonstrating very clearly that the impact of the economic crisis on pension pots means that many of us will be working well into our 60s and beyond.

Working for longer is a depressing thought at the best of times, especially if economic circumstances mean your planned, and hoped for, retirement is a little further away. However, there is no doubt that older workers are a huge asset to the workplace. Not only are they highly experienced but they come with wisdom invaluable for younger generations. But as we grow older our energy levels change and this can be difficult to manage with the demands of the modern day workplace. For older workers, finding a role that is fulfilling and comes at a pace you can handle can be difficult in today’s climate when competition for jobs is fierce.

So what can you do in your organisation to harness this talented segment of your workforce?

  • Think of coaching and mentoring opportunities that you can exploit at little cost to tap into the knowledge and experience of your older workers.
  • Consider a workforce health, well-being and counselling programme. In particular offering support to older workers will help them continue to have healthy and productive working lives so they can continue to make a valued contribution to your organisation.
  • Implement measures such as reverse mentoring to avoid potential generational conflict. Our own research into this topic reports that as Generation Y make their mark on the workplace and Generation X embed into senior leadership roles, there are more generations working than ever before, creating tensions. Asking younger generations to mentor their older colleagues, perhaps regarding technology, is a simple but effective way of getting generations working together.
  • Sell the benefits of flexible working. The ONS also showed that the majority of those working over state pension age are working part-time. At the same time, and worryingly, research published by Timewise suggests there is a stigma attached to working part-time and this is particularly true the higher up you are in the organisation. If this is the case, then consider turning to Charles Handy’s vision of Portfolio career as a choice that can be a reality for them giving the best of both worlds – paid, fulfilling work and rewarding voluntary work, perhaps even a NED post.

Of course, anyone that has worked part-time will realise that part-time can be a myth, as you can, at times, end up working as many hours as your full-time counterparts. In which case, create boundaries for them and their line managers to make sure they aren’t taken advantage of and help them to manage the transition from full-time to part-time working.

We are all living and working for longer so this issue isn’t going to go away. What thoughts do you have on retaining older workers in your organisation?