Why ignoring the over 50s will cost your business dearly

The over 50s are becoming a powerful workforce demographic that businesses would be foolish to ignore. By Steve Butler, CEO, Punter Southall Aspire

The over 50s are having a moment. From the government’s drive to get over 50s back to work to Madonna’s latest outburst slamming ageism after comments on her appearance at this year’s Grammy awards. 

Businesses could tap into this moment too and embrace the skills, knowledge, and experiences of older workers… if only they could overcome ageism.

New research from Just Group[i] shows that over half a million economically inactive 50 to 64-year-olds, including 25,000 who had previously retired, are currently looking for work. At the same time more than a third of companies with more than 10 workers claim to be experiencing a labour shortage.

The over 50s are being promoted as the solution. The government has announced a number of initiatives, including a network of 50 PLUS Champions[ii] and job coaches at GP surgeries[iii] to get older people back to work.

This age group are becoming a powerful workforce demographic that businesses would be foolish to ignore. By 2025, there will be one million more people 50 and over, and one in three of the working age population will be 50 or over[iv].

Overcoming ageism

However, as Madonna and countless other over 50s celebrities would testify, ageism is rife across society and in the workplace. Recent research from the Chartered Management Institute (CMI)[v] who surveyed UK businesses and public services found that just four out of 10 (42%) were open “to a large extent” to hiring people aged between 50 and 64.

A key problem is because of its intersection with other aspects of diversity and ageism is not considered a standalone issue. However, failing to recognise it can mean firms end up losing older workers or struggle to recruit talented over 50s, which can have a big impact on the business.

Many firms still prefer to hire younger workers and older people are more likely to be discriminated against, stereotyped as being techno-phobic, lacking in ambition or resistant to further training or learning.

But it can be a major challenge for organisations to overcome this as they exist in an ageist society in which it’s difficult to escape from. It’s everywhere – in language, in newspapers and on TV and in the way older people are treated in society.

However, failing to recognise it can mean firms end up losing older workers or struggle to recruit talented over 50s, which can have a big impact on a business’s ability to fill roles.

Changing perceptions

A shift is needed for society and employers to change their perceptions of what it means to be an older worker. But there are things that businesses can do to make their workplace more appealing to the older worker and reap the benefits of this talented part of the workforce.

Firstly, they need to fully embrace flexible working practices such as flexi-time, reduced hours or part-time working, a compressed work week or hybrid working.  Over 50s often have caring responsibilities they need to fit around a job.

Also, after decades of working many people yearn for a better work life balance, so a pattern of work that can accommodate this can help retain or attract people back into work.

Looking at the long term

The recruitment process might need to be overhauled too. Businesses need to ensure adverts are completely inclusive and don’t discriminate and appeal just to younger workers. At the interview stage, is there a mix of ages to ensure older workers feel like it’s a place they could fit in.

Training and development are important too. Too often, budgets are skewed towards younger generations, but older people want to learn and progress. Offering training and development can help to retain older workers and reduce the need for the recruitment and training of new people which is often more costly.

Finally, identifying the needs and aspirations of people in their mid and later stages of their career is vital. This can be done by conducting midlife career reviews to stimulate conversations about next steps, second careers and flexible career solutions.

These are a great tool for enabling employers and employees to work together to come up with a plan that enables people to want to stay in work longer and for employers to benefit from the skills and experience an older person has to offer.

Businesses that champion the older worker will be the winners in the end, so perhaps it’s time to get ahead of the pack and start beating the drum for the over 50s.

Steve Butler is the author of a number of influential books on managing ntergenerational workforces and promoting diversity in the workplace, as well as co-author of “The Midlife Review”.

[i] https://corporate-adviser.com/older-workers-may-be-key-to-addressing-staff-shortages-research/

[ii] https://www.gov.uk/government/news/government-drive-to-help-those-aged-50-and-over-re-join-the-jobs-market

[iii] https://www.telegraph.co.uk/politics/2023/02/01/job-coaches-gp-surgeries-push-unemployed-over-50s-back-work/

[iv] https://www.ageing-better.org.uk/news/how-support-your-older-workers

[v] https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-64441775

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