The findings were published as the Women and Equalities Committee released a major new report concluding that the skills of more than a million over-50s who want to work are being wasted because of discrimination, bias and outdated employment practices. The Committee stated that the business case for an age-diverse workforce is clear, but despite this employers continue to organise workplaces around an inflexible model that no longer works.
Over recent decades there has been a significant increase in the number of older workers, with over-50s now making up 31% of the UK workforce, a trend that the Committee says will only continue as the state pension age rises. At the same time there are fewer school leavers entering the job market.
However, in a survey of 500 UK employers commissioned by the Centre for Ageing Better, just 20% said that the ageing workforce is being discussed strategically in their workplace. Additionally, 24% of employers think that their organisation is unprepared for this demographic change.
The survey also showed that 20% of employers have faced challenges with managing age diversity, including older workers feeling uncomfortable working under younger managers and vice-versa (12% and 10% respectively). Despite this only 33% of employers said they provide support, training or guidance for managers on handling age diversity.
Currently 49% of older workers leave the labour market prematurely – often because of a lack of support from their employer, the Centre for Ageing Better warned.
The Centre is urging organisations to adopt five age-friendly practices. These include introducing flexible working arrangements, age-positive recruitment, and appropriate support for health at work.
Patrick Thomson, the Centre for Ageing Better’s lead on age-friendly employment, said that tackling age bias should be a priority for employers.
“The UK workforce is changing – and employers need to catch up. Improving policy and practice, tackling age bias, and creating an age-friendly workplace culture are vital to ensuring that people can work for as long as they want to. Employers who don’t make these changes will be left behind,” he said.
“This matters for older workers, and younger workers who mostly expect to work longer than their parents. Without changes to our workplaces more of us will face worse working lives as we age.”
Brian Beach, senior research fellow at the International Longevity Centre-UK, who gave spoken evidence to the Women and Equalities Committee, welcomed the call for stronger action from government and the EHRC. He added that it’s crucial employers understand what ageism really is.
“Tackling ageism in the labour market and promoting age-friendly employment standards are vital steps to ensure that older people have the opportunities they want to work in later life. We support the Committee’s call for stronger, clearer action,” he said.
“However, the role of employers remains crucial, and part of the problem stems from a lack of awareness of what ageism really is. Our report Exploring Retirement Transitions highlighted that employers are aware of age discrimination legislation, yet some line managers are scared to talk to people about their retirement plans for fear of being accused of ageism – which is unhelpful for both employer and employee.
"Older people are not a homogeneous group, and the Committee is right to call for the government to commission research into the diversity among older people and their access to work opportunities. We are ready to work with other stakeholders to develop this evidence base.”