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Age cannot be a barrier to better work

The idea of living to work is changing. Recent research from King's College London found millennials' opinions about whether work should come first have radically shifted: in 2009, 41% felt this way; by 2022 just 14%.

Likewise, new Indeed research finds only 16% of all age groups say they live to work.

Although putting work first is now only true for a minority of people, the reality is that most of us spend a significant proportion of our lives working. So it’s important that employers and employees alike strive to make that time as good as possible.

Indeed’s survey of 5,000 UK workers found that fair pay (39%), flexible hours (36%), job security (31%) and being able to be your authentic self (28%) are what makes a job good.

This holistic view of employment implies a workforce taking wellbeing seriously. Yet it also presents a challenge for employers when there’s competition for talent.

Job vacancies are below the one million mark for the first time in over two years, yet the market remains tight with just 1.4 unemployed jobseekers for every vacancy.

Read more: Age-based assumptions are leading employers astray

Age is a barrier for the youngest and oldest

While record numbers of over 50s are in part-time work, our research found that Gen-X candidates were the least satisfied with their jobs. 34% bemoaned few development opportunities, higher than the average for all workers.

And when it comes to finding better work, many perceive their age to be a barrier, with almost half (48%) of those over 55 saying their age is stopping them from getting a better job.

It’s not just those in older age groups who feel their age is holding them back from better work. 28% of Gen-Z workers (16-24 year olds) cited their age as a barrier, alongside their lack of experience (40%) and lack of confidence (33%).

This emphasises the need to offer skills training and mentoring to this age group. It also implies a labour force bookended by younger and older age groups who feel their age is a barrier to better work. 

Read more: How employers can make recruitment more age-inclusive

What can be done? 

A raise in salary, even if affordable, may not be the answer to retaining a diverse and talented team. Indeed Wage Tracker data shows advertised pay for new hires grew 7.3% year-on-year in August.

While this may attract some candidates, it won’t be enough to keep them if the role lacks flexibility, personal growth and purpose.

Instead, employers must match the candidate’s need for satisfaction and flexibility to attract all age groups.

This will mean offering choice in terms of when and where employees work, skills training and development opportunities, and giving the role a wider societal purpose and personal relevance.

It also requires creating a workplace culture that welcomes diversity in age and all its forms, which has been found to positively impact the bottom line.

Crafting a compelling job description is essential. Hiring technology can help by matching qualifications and individual candidate preferences with job descriptions.


Looking ahead

The pandemic caused us all to think about what matters. For many, this means spending more time with loved ones, doing what’s enjoyable and purposeful, and being in control of our lives.

This need is reflected in an increasing demand for flexibility, and the changing importance attached to work which is evident across all age groups.  

Attracting talented, diverse, multigenerational teams will mean creating job openings that serve the specific needs and interests of every generation and background.

Technology can help create this match, but it must be backed by practical measures to make employees feel valued. An inflexible hiring policy can now be replaced by creativity and the willingness to recruit across every generation.

This is a welcome development for employers everywhere.  

Danny Stacy is UK head of talent intelligence at global hiring platform Indeed