Nearly one in three workers in the UK are aged 50 or over. The average employee in the UK is now their 40s and those aged 50 may have another 20 years of working life ahead of them (Source: Centre for Ageing Better). Our local Oxfordshire Industrial Strategy talks about “creating opportunities at every stage of life” with “opportunities for people to re-skill, upskill and continue to contribute to the economy”, but what does that mean in practical terms to us as business owners, entrepreneurs or start-ups? How can we take advantage of the knowledge and skills of older people, and how do we enable our employees to age well at work?
Employers who value the benefits of experience, can support their most skilled workers to contribute to their businesses by adopting flexible working models. Work models that help colleagues plan to handle responsibilities as carers, access skills development or hit head-on the challenges associated with living with long term conditions will reap the rewards.
We know that health is the single biggest driver leading to people leaving work before they are ready to retire. Whilst this is not inevitable, health conditions do become more common with age and where an employer is not clear about how to manage this situation it may lead to someone leaving. Do you have a clear management approach to health issues? Are your managers aware of what is expected of them and do they offer flexible support? What adjustments do you make to enable someone to manage their own health problems and prevent a crisis?
And what about training, is your company encouraging development and ringfencing time for older people to continue to develop their skills? Those businesses that encourage the practice of lifelong learning both in the workplace and outside will reap the rewards of an enabled workforce.
But it is more than management practices – have you actively considered and consulted on the working environment and the impact it could be having on the health of your workers or their ability to manage any health conditions? The design of your working space might need to change. For example, it could be that the open plan design of your offices create noisy working environments that don’t work for people with hearing difficulties. There is also a well-documented link between exercise and well-being, do you actively encourage your employees to take physical exercise?
Those businesses that plan, prepare and embrace the change will have a wider pool of potential employees to draw from and will reap the maximum rewards that come with staying ahead of the curve.
The Centre of Diversity Policy Research and Practice is one of a number of centres at Oxford Brookes University working to improve our understanding of how to enable people to age well at work, and to continue to contribute to our economy. For further information please contact Juliet Bligh, Coordinator Healthy Ageing Group, Oxford Brookes University on [email protected].