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How can HR challenge ageism in the workplace?

One in four (24%) of all unemployed people in the UK are aged over 50, and the chances of them staying unemployed is expected to rise due to the pandemic.

In Office for National Statistic analysis from Rest Less, unemployment levels in the over 50s increased by highest percentage of all age groups in 2020, rising 34% at the end of the year (August to October) compared to the start of the year (January to March).

People in this age group are also more likely to stay frozen out of the workforce - as they are two and a half times more likely than younger age groups to be out of work for at least two years.

A rise in the state pension age and squeezed job market are expected to perpetuate ideas of age discrimination in the workforce.

So what can HR do to challenge it?


Create policies supporting diversity 

Justin Johnson, HR director at contract catering company Elior UK, said that older staff members help to diversify and strengthen a workforce.

Speaking to HR magazine he said: “Just under 50% of our workforce is 50 or over and these colleagues not only bring expertise and life experience, but they can also act as a mentor to younger members of the team.

“Mentoring isn’t the only benefit of an older worker, having diverse teams leads to more creative and innovative work.”

Johnson said that it’s up to HR to create the policies to support a diverse agenda and drive action across the company.

“We can also add huge value by helping managers across our business understand what they can do to create an inclusive culture, challenge stereotypes and shift the focus to how people contribute.”


Have an HR team of all ages 

Sally Coleman, HR manager at Bloomsbury, said her HR team is made stronger due to the team’s range of ages.

She told HR magazine: “In respect of age profile, the Bloomsbury HR team span five decades and each decade brings a perspective to the different stages of work, career and personal life.

“Bringing those perspectives together creates a more effective team than a single viewpoint, it creates a balanced, resilient workplace.”

More tips for tackling ageism in the workforce:

From the Centre for Ageing Better

Challenge perceptions of 'employability'

Transparent policy

Think about training & phrasing

Linda Mountford, Northern Europe commercial HR director at John West Foods, said that a clear diversity and inclusion strategy, including training, is also a necessity.

She said: "HR leaders need to ensure training is available for all leaders and employees in the area of unconscious bias, and ensure that company cultures are inclusive to all from website images, to case studies, that should cover all age groups." 

When hiring, job descriptions should also be mindful to not contain descriptors that could deter an age group from applying.

She added: "This will ensure a diverse range of ages at every level where possible. Interview questions should be structured by experience and competency, and the interviewing panel should be diverse.

"On top of this, companies need to provide opportunities for all to learn and grow, no matter what age or job band people are in. We should refrain from making assumptions when it comes to development and succession planning."