My partner and I had lunch yesterday with an old friend. Judy appointed me to my first HR role, about 30 years ago now. We had a lively lunch; she told us she’s had to give up her dancing because an injury to one of her tendons hasn’t recovered well enough, but she walks now to get the exercise and has now taken up jewellery making as a new interest. Her first tranche of work was sold at a McMillan Coffee morning and as they went like hot cakes, she went on a course to find out a bit more and is now making more pieces to raise funds for a local school. She told us with great glee that she’s even got her first commission. As quite the most chic and energetic 79 year old I know, she looks and sounds fit and is completely on the ball, she’s a living advert for a mentally and physically sound old age. If she wanted to work I’d hire her any day of the week.
While we have 1,000,000+ unemployed young people, dubbed the lost generation, it also seems that many businesses are reluctant to take on older workers. The default retirement age was generally removed in 2011. There are some exceptions, but they are very few and far between. Most employers had to accept that employees can stay until they choose to retire unless there’s a redundancy situation or performance capability or ill health problem, in which case the usual rules apply. A recent Baring Asset Management survey found that for the first time, one million people in the UK workforce are aged 65 or over, with 14 per cent of working people not planning to retire at all.
Humans need routine and a sense of purpose to stay healthy. Working for longer comes with its benefits, both personal and economical. It keeps both the body and mind more active; in turn this contributes towards keeping us fitter and healthier for longer. It is said that people who continue to work are also happier because they feel valued and enjoy the social interaction.
Older workers also have years of experience, which often means employers can tap into their wide range of skills and confidence. Working for longer will also allow people to add to their own pension as well as helping to relieve pressure on public finances. (If you read this and moan gently to yourself that you hate your job, your boss is a miserable toad, your workplace is making you ill and this is an enduring sense, not just a touch of winter Monday blues, there may be a mismatch between you and your job. Why not consider a change? Life’s too short to hate your job.)
Young people must now stay in education until the age of 18. It is estimated that seven million young people will leave school or college over the next ten years. In the same time period it’s estimated that there are likely to be around 13.5 million job vacancies. This means that accommodating older people in the work place will become a necessity. PRIME (Prince’s Initiative for Mature Enterprise) says that by matching the employment rate in the 50 to 64 age group with that of the 35 to 49 age group, productivity in the UK could increase by 5.6 per cent.
Concerns have been voiced that allowing older people to stay in work longer will prevent younger people getting work and getting onto the career ladder. But both groups bring different virtues to the party and can learn from each other. For example, many older people have developed the skills to deal with customers in difficult and heated situations. Such tactical communication skills are important in a variety of roles as well as a useful life skill and younger people will be able to learn some valuable lessons from the older people in the work place.
In some industries it is becoming more and more important to retain older workers so that important skills are not lost. Specialist areas in construction and engineering are beginning to suffer and the industry is putting programmes in place to help keep workers for longer. The Royal College of GPs is also encouraging doctors to stay on as there are currently not enough younger replacements. While the older generation is currently needed in order to keep some industries afloat, younger people are also needed. Skills must be learnt so eventually the younger generation can take over and keep the industry going.
While young people can bring great things to the workplace, older workers are capable of doing the same. Both must work together, sharing skills and knowledge to create best working practice. All that’s needed is an open approach and a willingness to accommodate the changing requirements of workers. Wise employers will see competent older workers as treasure troves. Old can mean gold in employment terms.
Too much trouble to make adjustments for older workers? Remember you’ll be old too one day. The chances are you’ll still have lots left to offer, even if some small accommodation has to be made to the way you do things. Being pushed out and made to feel useless is a horrible sensation and damaging to the individual and society. Unless you want to, why shouldn’t you continue to contribute if you can? Small changes in thinking achieve big, positive results.
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