Sep 16th 2022

Age is our ally: How older workers can drive business growth

Last month, Dame Sharon White urged the UK government to bring more over 50s back into work to help the economy get back on its feet.

Reacting to a sharp rise in job vacancies that is pushing up wages and inflation, the John Lewis chief told The Guardian how the group could address the labour shortage created when around 1 million people, mostly aged over 50, left the workplace during the pandemic.

Had pre-Covid trends continued, today’s labour market would have had 500,000 more older workers. But economic activity among professionals aged 50-65 slumped by over 5% between 2019 and 2021.

Retirement, ill health and caring responsibilities are among drivers behind the trend that ONS data suggests could be reversed by a demographic that wants to get back into work.

Released this summer, the UK government’s over 50s support package is a step in the right direction, but we in the enterprise community have a duty to champion these groups too.

Below I look at what needs to be done and highlight the business benefits of having age on your side.

Rewire recruitment

Older individuals might be seen as less tech-savvy or less driven, but stereotyping can mean companies miss out on innovation and business acumen.

Most successful entrepreneurs are over 40, Companies House data finds, while Penn State research says that a 50-year-old entrepreneur is 1.8 times more likely to have success than a founder in their 30s.

Use recruitment data related to age and try to hire based on skills and expertise. If your teams are mostly young, question why this is; are cultures at play that are undermining your ability to draw more experienced individuals?


Many over 50s are leaving employment due to caring responsibilities, while 20% of women this age are carers, DWP data finds.

Tackle the situation by introducing paid carers’ leave, remote working options, or phased retirement plans – something that 39% of workers over 50 say they want. Part-time roles and flexible working patterns are also in demand, reveals a UK government survey.

Guaranteeing flexibility will both drive recruitment and boost retention among senior workers.

Smash discrimination

According to Rest Less, 2020 saw a 74% increase in age discrimination complaints to UK employment tribunals – evidence of an ageism that Prof Martin Green calls “a national scandal”.

Ensure years of service and longevity data are core to Diversity, Inclusion and Equality strategies, and educate workers on generational differences. Improvements here can enable 75% of organisations to exceed financial targets, Gartner says.

Think of ways in which more mature workers could mentor younger personnel. Allowing the older cohort to contribute knowledge will raise self-esteem and firm up relationships.

Training and development

Sadly, 20% of UK employees have never had a career conversation with their line manager, and in the US, surveys show a third of workers going without development over a 12-month period.

Regular one-to-one meetings should be used to identify skills gaps, with training schedules then aligning with long-term business goals.

Beyond upskilling, regular training will breed a culture of learning that motivates and strengthens teams in the long-run. Recognise achievements to support engagement and motivation.

Health and wellbeing

We are beginning to understand the importance of prioritising staff welfare. However, there’s so much scope to tailor offerings to senior needs.

In Britain, a quarter of women give up work due to menopause symptoms. It’s an issue that more workplaces need to help with, say 57% of professionals.

The CIPD recommends using internal campaigns and webinars to create cultures in which women feel more confident of discussing problems, and to encourage individuals to seek advice and guidance when needed.

More broadly, it’s so important to keep wellbeing policies updated, especially at a time when three quarters of workers aged over 50 suffer from chronic illness. This could include reviewing disability plans, health insurance strategies and bolstering retirement pathways.

At an everyday level, ergonomic tools and improved accessibility features can create a more accommodating and comfortable physical environment.

At HR Spectrum, I’m increasingly seeing companies use these kinds of approaches to enrich their teams with the skills that span generations.

To find out more and to learn about the fantastic opportunities available through HR Spectrum, contact us today.

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