Ageing workforce: Why recruiting and retaining older workers may help your business

August 22, 2023

By Owen John

With the workforce likely to shrink by 25% in the coming decades, there is growing pressure on employers to attract and retain older employees. Our employment team has explored how recruiting and engaging older workers may benefit your business.

Why recruit and retain older workers in particular?

The UK has recently seen an increasing number of older workers leaving the workforce to take early retirement or not returning to work following a career break. A 2022 Office for National Statistics (ONS) study found that almost half a million people aged 50 and over in the UK had become “economically inactive” (i.e. not in employment and not looking for work) since the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic. The most common reasons cited for exiting the workforce were taking early retirement, wanting a change of lifestyle and reducing stress, being made redundant during the pandemic, and shielding from Covid-19.

Why is this a problem for employers?

Older workers generally have a lot of training and experience, and have invaluable knowledge and skills. Losing this knowledge and experience can be challenging for employers.

In addition, the mass exit of older workers from the workforce can mean that employers in some sectors in particular will face bigger problems with recruitment, as the numbers of younger workers entering some sectors are also smaller.

As a result, many organisations will benefit from taking steps to retain their existing workers as they get older, as well as recruiting older workers.

How can employers attract and retain older workers?

  • Provide training opportunities. Many older workers are still keen to learn new skills and undergo additional training to remain in their role. Employers should engage with employees to recognise their concerns, understand their position, and invest in training programmes to ensure engagement with older workers.
  • Flexible working. Older workers are more likely to have home responsibilities for grandchildren or aging relatives, and employers which offer part-time hours or time off work to support caring responsibilities may be more attractive to older workers. Employers could agree to reduce their employees’ contractual hours and/or change the location of work to suit personal responsibilities.
  • Equality, diversity and inclusion (EDI) policies. Employers should ensure that written policies are in place and provide training on EDI and on issues such as menopause, to ensure an age friendly culture.
  • Mental health support. Stress was cited in the ONS survey as one of the biggest reasons for older workers choosing to leave the workforce. Putting appropriate support measures in place may help to retain those of your employees who are considering retiring for their health.

What is the legal position?

Under the Equality Act, age is different to the other protected characteristics. Although all ages are protected, employers are allowed to positively discriminate on age grounds where they have a legitimate business reason, and do so in a fair way. This may include attracting older workers back to the workplace. This means that employers have some legal leeway when it comes to recruiting and retaining older workers.

If you require assistance with any of the above, please contact a member of our employment team, Owen John, on 02920 829 118 or for a free initial chat to see how we can help you.

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