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Employers are happy for workers to stay on after 65 but wary of discussing age issues

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Only half of employers have a formal pro-age recruitment policy, and many more are nervous of discussing age issues with workers as they approach retirement, new research reveals (21 October). However, many businesses are open to making adjustments to the workplace to help retain staff if the issue is raised on an informal basis.

According to a report launched today by the Institute for Employment Studies and The Nuffield Foundation, many employers are happy to let people carry on working after the normal retirement age of 65, and many would also be happy to see compulsory retirement abolished, but say they need support to get the best out of more mature workers.

The report, An Ageing Workforce - The Employer's Perspective, explores the attitudes of employers towards older workers, the range of interventions in place to prevent early exit and facilitate their continued employment.

The research found formal pro-age recruitment policies and age management policies are more common in larger organisations. But they are less likely in industries dominated by men and those organisations that tend to ‘recruit from within'.

The absence of formal pro-age recruitment policies does not necessarily mean bad practice, however. Employers recognise the benefits of older workers. But health is still largely regarded as a private, individual matter rather than a concern for employers beyond meeting specific health and safety regulations.  

 

Some employers did express reservations around older workers, where they did not match their customer demographic or there was a heavy manual element to their work. And some employers simply do not have any experience of staff retiring, often because they have a small business or a new business with a young workforce. Larger employers were familiar with the retirement process and more often had policies in place to manage the process.


Helen Barnes, principal research fellow at the Institute for Employment Studies, said: "The number of older workers is rapidly increasing, so it's essential that both employers and Government tackle this issue. We have found that many organisations struggle to raise the issue of age in the workplace, as they are wary of causing offence or risking discrimination. Rather than adopt hard-and-fast policies on age, almost all employers seem willing to consider modifications to the workplace to retain older workers on a case-by-case basis; but too often employees are also reluctant to raise the issue.

"The role of line managers is crucial here. Employers must make a greater effort to communicate with staff and highlight that alternative working arrangements are a possibility, and that staff have a degree of choice in the run-up to retirement age. Employees on their part also need to be better informed of their rights to help encourage them to engage with their employer."