How can you support an ageing workforce?
Britain is growing old – and not just proverbially. As the population is set to increase, the proportion of the population aged 85 and over is projected to double over the next 25 years and the number of those working for longer rises with it. Recent figures from Canada Life Group reveal that nearly three quarters of UK employees say they won’t be able to retire by the age of 65 years.
Driving this development is a series of economic factors. While inflation has slowed in recent months, the rising cost of necessities has hit employees everywhere, as have poor savings returns from low interest rates. Britain is entering a period in which working into old age is both novelty and necessity.
What’s behind our ageing workforce?
The need to work into older age is starting much before retirement. Gen X, those aged between 35-44 years, are perhaps affected the most. Previously found to be at the peak of their financial responsibilities, this age group struggles to save for retirement between providing financially for their children and increasingly also their parents. One in five of them (27%) expect to retire after their 75th birthday.
However, it’s not all doom and gloom as not everyone begrudges the thought of continued employment. More than a third (35%) of UK employees cite non-monetary reasons for wanting to work beyond the traditional retirement age. Many simply enjoy their job and the benefits of social interaction that come with it.
No matter what the reason for continuing to work into old age it’s clear this is a trend that Britain could bank on in the future and should seek to encourage. Currently it’s not one leveraged successfully. In fact, a recent report by accountancy firm PwC shows that the UK economy might be accruing a loss of nearly £200 billion as a result of not catering towards an older workforce.
With nine in ten (94%) UK employees believing that the government isn’t helping to promote older workers, the opportunity lies with employers to address this issue.
Support starts with HR
What might be the biggest challenge for employers going forward, however, is not just including older candidates in their hiring decisions, but also ensuring they retain their employees as they age. Employers can do so by giving adequate support for varying employee needs as well as creating positive practices to encourage a diverse workforce.
Offering support starts in the HR department. For example, income protection, life insurance and critical illness cover are ranked the most useful employee benefits by those planning to work beyond the age of 652, as they provide invaluable comfort for those who fear external factors like their health might impact their ability to work into old age.
Solutions also need to be considered at an individual level, rather than a one size fits all offer. For example, employers can offer flexible working options to ensure that employees can continue working in an environment best suited to their needs.
A suitable environment also applies to the office and it’s essential that employers consider the ways they can make small but impactful changes to support employees. For example, 10 million people in England and Scotland suffer from suffer from persistent back pain, a condition that becomes more common with rising age. Small changes to office equipment, such as providing suitable or more comfortable seating, can make a big difference and create a more supportive environment.
Health concerns are the biggest challenge for older workers
When asked about the biggest challenges facing those working beyond the age of 65, UK workers believe health (57%) and energy levels (48%) to be the biggest issues. Older workers closest to the traditional retirement age are notably more likely to believe health concerns will impact their ability to work beyond 65 (64% of 55-64s compared to 53% of 25-34s), potentially because they have already suffered bouts of ill-health. Older workers are statistically more likely to develop certain health conditions, such as cancer, a stroke and diabetes 2. As a result, employee benefits designed to support workers through periods of ill-health and workplace based support will become even more important as the UK workforce ages.
Paul Avis, Marketing Director of Canada Life Group Insurance, comments:
“Savers have suffered from paltry returns ever since interest rates fell to 0.5% eight years ago. This is having a direct impact on UK workers’ retirement plans, with many forced to work longer than they would have hoped to. As inflation continues to rise, eating into the purchasing power of UK savings, this problem will only become more pronounced. Insufficient pension savings are another key cause, with recent reforms prompting many to realise they will need to continue earning for longer to fund a decent retirement.
“However, it’s not all bad news: others are working longer because they have high job satisfaction, and an older workforce brings with it a range of skills and experience. It is true however, as UK employees clearly identify, that older workers are more likely to suffer from health problems. Organisations that want to support and maintain an older workforce should consider offering income protection and critical illness products that help staff financially in the event of ill-health. These also come with a range of support services designed to improve worker’s overall well-being and enable those with an illness return to work whenever possible – a plus for both employers and employees.”
 Canada Life Group: Three in four employees will work beyond 65 as rising cost of living and poor returns on savings takes its toll, 20 June 2018
 Canada Life Individual Protection research, March 2018