Last week, older workers were once again at the top of the political agenda. The Government called on employers to do more to attract older workers and encourage them to stay in employment for longer, or risk losing out on ‘vast untapped talent’. To make this a reality, the Government is launching its new Fuller Working Lives framework to provide employers and employees with added support.
Why is this such an important issue? The UK’s population is increasing in age and people are now working for longer. The number of people working past retirement age has almost doubled in the past 20 years and by 2020, it is predicted that a third of workers will be older than 50. What’s more, older workers are a valuable business asset. They come with a lifetime of training and on-the-job experience, and have knowledge and skills that are vital for plugging the skills gap in certain sectors.
So, how can employers attract older workers?
Benefits packages are one of the most tangible ways for employers to show their staff they value and care for them. Our research shows that support in old age and during ill health becomes increasingly important to us as we get older, and has a tangible impact on our decision to join or stay with a company.
Two-thirds of workers over the age of 50 said flexibility and support at work if they fall ill is important to them and 60% said the same of financial support through ill health, making these a bigger factor in company loyalty than a bonus (50%). Yet many employers haven’t kept pace with demographic changes, leaving older workers more financially exposed now than 30 years ago.
While pension auto-enrolment will help people to save for retirement, employers looking to attract and retain older workers should also address the increased likelihood of ill health and help plan for the social care needed later in life.
For example, elective health insurance can help older workers to cover the cost of medical treatment, while income protection provides a financial back-up plan for those who go on long-term sick leave, and comes with rehabilitation services to support them if they are unable to return to work.
Access to employee assistance programmes and occupational health services will also help staff to address health problems early and make any necessary adjustments in the workplace.
Businesses must adapt their HR strategies if they are to remain competitive and attract workers from this relatively untapped talent pool – and the time to act is now.
A third (32%) of workers aged over 50 say they would consider leaving their job if they did not feel cared for by their employer, and they represent a growing faction in the modern workforce.
The Government’s new Fuller Working Lives programme will equip employers with some of the tools to make this change, but HR departments must lead the charge when it comes to championing and supporting the older generation in the employment market.
Linda Smith is HR director at Unum.