The reality and challenges of an ageing workforce

With pensionable age set to rise to 68 by 2037 and only 1 in 10 workers saving sufficiently for old age, retirement is being put off for longer by millions of workers and there is a risk of this leading to a morale and productivity crisis among a large proportion of the workforce.  

Hand in hand with the squeeze on personal finances is a declining birth rate.   In four years’ time, it is estimated that there will be 700,000 fewer people in the 16-49 age range and 3.7 million more people aged between 50 and state pension age. 

The rise of people working into their late 60s and even 70s means that businesses will have multiple generations working together, with all the management and conflict issues this could engender.

One of the most common problems caused by this is communication breakdowns between older and younger staff, particularly when newer and less experienced employees are promoted into management positions. This can often lead to declining morale, resentment towards management and outright workplace conflict.

On the legal side, employers who do not correctly manage their older workers can face Employment Tribunal claims for either direct or indirect age discrimination. These types of claims can involve significant compensation payments if successful.

Annual appraisals should be used to have ‘career conversations’ to better understand people’s aspirations to continue working - or not, as the case may be. Employers should make it clear that the purpose of these conversations is business and succession planning, and not any attempt or suggestion to force the employee to retire.

Larger organisations, such as BMW, have also already introduced “ageing workforce policies”, and this may be a trend which trickles down to smaller businesses over the next few years.

An ageing workforce policy could include the following:-

  • Practices to avoid unconscious bias, from the recruitment process to redundancy selection
  • Training and career development opportunities for all ages
  • Support for workers facing changes in midlife
  • Non-discriminatory career conversations to discuss flexibility and part-time working
  • Peer to peer mentoring where young and old to learn from one another and build bridges