baby boomers workA new survey out this week from Canada Life has added to the weight of research showing that older employees face a lack of support and ingrained negative attitudes at work.

According to a report in HR Magazine, of the 1,000 plus people surveyed, only 12% felt older workers were appreciated and respected, while just 11% thought employers were making efforts to get their older workforce to stay.

This is a situation that can’t be left unchallenged. The demographic make-up of the workforce is changing rapidly, with over 50’s playing an increasingly significant role.  It is predicted, for example, that although 13.5 million jobs will be created over the next 10 years, only seven million young people will be available to fill them.

There is no doubt that older workers want to play an active role in the workplace. Indeed, thanks to changes in employment legislation, many of them will need to work way beyond conventional retirement age. Research from Ashridge has found, however, that many Baby Boomers feel they lack a voice in the workplace and are frustrated by the misconception that they are simply biding their time, on a slow path to retirement.

Employers who don’t take action to engage these older workers and make use of their vast bank of knowledge and experience will soon find themselves facing significant skills shortages (which are likely to be even further exacerbated by the impact of Brexit). So what should the HR profession be doing to close the gap between what employers need and what older workers want?

Check for recruitment bias:

The struggles that more mature workers often face in finding jobs or securing promotion are well documented. Part of the problem is that managers, often subconsciously, tend to recruit in their own image.

Research by Mercer suggests this is a ‘hidden’ problem in organisations, which is leading to a worrying lack of diversity. They found that the majority of UK employers (87%) don’t monitor their recruitment processes for age-related bias. Of those that do have measures in place, over half found that managers were not hiring people older than themselves.

HR has a role to play in encouraging managers to see the value of considering a wider pool of candidates – in addition to making sure they don’t fall foul of age discrimination legislation.

Take a flexible approach:

Flexibility is key to retaining and attracting talented older workers. The Baby Boomer generation often has different priorities to their younger colleagues. They place a high value on work-life balance, for example, and may prefer flexible, part-time work that allows them to pursue other interests. Many are also having to balance work and elder-care responsibilities and need employers to show the same flexibility that is afforded to younger workers with children.

The pay-back for employers who understand and accommodate these needs – while still offering rewarding, fulfilling work – is immense. Older workers who feel that they are valued and supported by their organisation are more loyal, willing to go the extra mile and more likely to provide stability by sticking around.

Consider new models of retirement:

Research has shown that there is a lot of awkward side-stepping around the ‘R’ word in organisations. With the disappearance of the default retirement age, managers are often unsure how to handle conversations with workers who are in the later stages of their career, mostly for fear of either causing offence or getting the rules wrong. Employees themselves are reluctant to raise the issue, in case they are ‘written off’ or shown the door before they are ready.

If organisations want to maximise the contribution of older workers they need to move towards new models of retirement which are less about abrupt endings and more about planned, phased departures. This calls for open and constructive conversations where managers find out what their more mature workers want, and how they can make the best use of their skills and talents. A shift away from operational jobs towards more strategic, consultant type roles and an emphasis on mentoring are some of the initiatives forward-looking employers are beginning to experiment with.

Understand the generational make-up of your workforce:

Organisations need to get a much closer handle on the breakdown of their workforce. It’s vital to be clear, for example, about whether large numbers of business-critical employees are likely to retire at around the same time. Or whether those people who are coming to the end of their career are in skill shortage areas and will be hard to replace.

The latest generation HR software is your friend in this situation. Systems like Cezanne HR include sophisticated workforce analytics and organisational charts that can be broken down by age and department, giving a helicopter view and helping to identify areas of vulnerability. A new Career & Succession module, which will help companies take a more pro-active approach to identifying and developing talent, will also be launched later this month at the HR Software Show (Olympia, 14-15 June).



Erika Lucas author image

Erika Lucas

Writer and Communications Consultant

Erika Lucas is a writer and communications consultant with a special interest in HR, leadership, management and personal development. Her career has spanned journalism and PR, with previous roles in regional press, BBC Radio, PR consultancy, charities and business schools.