Out-Law Analysis

The race for talent: retaining the skills and experience of the over 55s

Employers seeking to recruit and retain a productive workforce should offer support to those aged over 55 to benefit from the skills, experience, knowledge transfer, network and diversity of thought that older people bring to the workplace.

The need to harness the potential of the over 55s is especially important given the shortages of skilled labour being reported globally.

Recent figures show there are a record number of job vacancies in the UK. It has been suggested that one reason for this could be that older workers are leaving the workforce at a higher rate than before. The UK is not alone in this problem. Other countries, such as the Netherlands, are reporting record-breaking shortages on the labour market too.

The barriers

According to the UK’s Centre for Ageing Better’s “Shut out” report, health is the leading reason why people aged 50-64 are out of work. Caring responsibilities, inflexible working practices and ageism are also reasons why older adults leave the workforce and are barriers to those trying to re-enter. 

Many employers do not consider age when looking to improve diversity and inclusion in recruitment

According to the age diversity charter document of the Dutch Social-Economic Council, age discrimination is the discrimination ground most experienced by persons over 50. There are persistent prejudices about the over 55s that negatively impact their access to the labour market. The lack of investment in sustainable employability by employers and employees is also flagged as a problem.

What can employers do?

The “Shut out” report shows that many employers do not consider age when looking to improve diversity and inclusion in recruitment. It also highlighted that the type of language used in job advertisements can deter older workers from applying.

There are measures employers can take to counter these barriers:

  • Support healthy ageing initiatives – in the UK, 25% of women consider giving up work as a result of menopause symptoms; a recent CBS and TNO study in the Netherlands showed that 57% of employees with menopause symptoms that impact their work said they required more support and understanding in the workplace.
  • Offer flexible working, paid carers leave and phased retirement – Carers UK report that 600 people leave the workforce each day because of caring responsibilities.
  • Set up mentoring programs to encourage knowledge exchange and interaction between the generations in the workplace.
  • Make the topic of future sustainable employability part of employees’ personal development plans in a timely fashion, and discuss training requirements and future job crafting.
  • Challenge negative stereotypes that may be barriers to recruitment. Such stereotypes may include: older workers are not innovative; they take more time off sick; they are unable to learn new skills. There is evidence to the contrary. Companies House data shows that most successful entrepreneurs are over 40 and research compiled by insurance provider Rias found that workers in their twenties are twice as likely to have a sick day compared to their older colleagues.
  • Tackle age discrimination in the workplace. In 2020, there was a 74% increase in the number of age discrimination complaints to UK employment tribunals, according to Rest Less, an online “community” for people over-50. According to a European social survey, Britain has one of the worst records in Europe on age discrimination – nearly two out of five people claim to have been shown a lack of respect because of how old they are.

These initiatives, together with supporting skills development throughout a working life, will demonstrate that employers value the skills and experience of older workers. It will also show they acknowledge the benefits of a multigenerational workforce.

Pinsent Masons is hosting a webinar on retaining the skills and experience of the over 55’s on Thursday 15 September on recruitment and retention of over 55’s as part of its global campaign on the race for talent. You can register to attend this free event.

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