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Older workforces make commercial sense, says Nationwide HRD

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Older workers bring commercial benefits to organisations because they are more reliable, have broad life skills and bring balance to workplace culture, the HR director of a leading building society has said.

Nationwide’s Keith Astill told HR magazine his company’s decision to remove its retirement age had led to improved staff retention and customer satisfaction rates.

His comments coincided with the publication of research suggesting 55% of employers expected their benefits costs to increase as the working-age population increased.

But Astill said older workers delivered value and were key to providing better service to customers.

“It’s a myth that it’s more expensive to keep older workers,” he said. “This is about performance – the value people add irrespective of age. We’re not seeing that they’re more expensive – we’re seeing the value having a mix of people brings.”

Astill said a survey of more than 2,100 adults published by Nationwide showed 68% thought having a person in a team over 60 had, or would have, a positive impact.

“The feedback from our customers is they really appreciated the added maturity and experience some of our older workers are able to bring,” Astill said.

“Older workers typically are perhaps more reflective of our customer base. They’ve had some of the real-life experiences of dealing with family issues, saving, buying a house, or going through credit cards.”

Astill said the benefits were also felt within the workforce. “Older people are able to bring a broader perspective of doing things differently, which has more of a balancing effect across the whole team,” he said.

Nationwide’s study also found older workers were less likely to take days off work as a result of sickness.

A total of 45% of workers aged 55 and had not taken sick leave over the past 12 months, compared to 36% of 18 to 24-year-olds.

Just over a quarter (26%) of those aged 55 and above had taken up to three days off for illness, compared to 40% of 18 to 24-year-olds.

“This dispels some of the myths that older workers are more unreliable because of health or because they are looking after people,” said Astill.

Nationwide removed its retirement age from its employment policy in 2011. Of its 17,000 staff, 16% are aged 50 or over, and 2% are aged 60 or above.

“We’ve been able to retain a greater proportion of effective people to deliver the service that we want,” Astill said.

“That’s reflected in our retention rates. It’s no coincidence that our customer satisfaction rates are the highest in the industry.”

However, a survey of 480 senior executives at companies across Europe published by the Economist Intelligence Unit suggested 55% believed the cost of providing healthcare benefits to an ageing population would increasingly fall on the employer.

Towers Watson UK head of pensions John Ball, which sponsored the report, said an ageing workforce would create “significant challenges for employers, especially around how to control the cost of benefit provision for this group of workers”.

“Employers need to recognise that the benefits they offer need to be adapted to deliver to the needs of the whole workforce, regardless of age.”

HR magazine partnered with Talentsmoothie on a report about ageing workforces last year.