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How to support an ageing workforce

Feeling your age? You’re not alone – the UK’s population is steadily getting older. In fact, there’s projected to be an extra 7.5 million people aged 65 and over in the UK in 50 years' time.[1] And as the population ages, so does the workforce – according to our latest research, 44% of workers are now expecting to work beyond their state pension age.[2]

The traditional notion of retiring at the age of 65 is becoming a distant memory. Whether working longer through choice or necessity, this trend presents both opportunities and challenges in equal measure. Employers will need to adapt to successfully support an ageing workforce and take advantage of its potential.

Postponing retirement: the key drivers

A series of external factors lie behind employees working for longer - rising costs, the increase in state pension age, the fact we’re all living longer - but there are personal reasons too. Our research revealed that 43% of people believed their pension isn’t sufficient, so they have no choice but to continue working.3 This is an issue that manifests long before retirement. Many people have not contributed enough or have started saving too late. Others may have struggled to balance the need to save for retirement while providing for their family.

It’s important to bear in mind that this can have a negative impact on the mental wellbeing of some older workers. Our research found that 34% were worried about being unable to enjoy their older age if they worked past state pension age. And 33% were worried about the impact of continuing to work on their health.3

But it’s not all bad news, as some intend to stay in work through choice. Our research found that 23% want to work beyond state pension age because they enjoy the routine of working.3 There are other benefits to remaining in work aside from better finances such as social connections and staying active that can tempt to staff to remain for longer.

Whatever the reason for working into old age, it’s clear this trend is only likely to grow in future. With so many of us now working into later life, it’s important for employers to consider the needs of this significant and growing segment of the workforce.

The role of HR in supporting older workers

Supporting an ageing workforce goes beyond simply considering older candidates for roles – employers also need to think about how they can retain existing staff as they age.

This support begins in the HR department, including decisions that are made around employee benefits. Our latest research revealed that critical illness (33%) and income protection (33%) were considered the most useful protection products for employees likely to work beyond their state pension age.3 These products can provide comfort and reassurance that their family and income will be protected if age catches up to them in one way or another.

Solutions also need to be considered at an individual level, as a one-size-fits-all approach rarely meets employees’ specific concerns. For example, flexible working is seen by staff as one of the best ways to attract and support older workers. A massive 83% of people who think they’ll work beyond their state pension age said flexible working would be an important factor in supporting and attracting an older workforce.3

When it comes to the working environment, there are small but impactful changes that can be made to support older workers. For example, persistent back pain is a condition that can worsen with age and musculoskeletal problems are a leading contributor to absence.[3] Providing the right equipment both at home and in the office can make a big difference to preventing these conditions.

Upskilling and tackling negative perceptions

But it’s not just about providing the right equipment: as staff age, employers need to provide workers with training and resources to help extend working lives. The type of training will depend on the role but providing access to training can help extend working lives without widening inequalities between young and old workers.

Negative perceptions of older workers also need to be tackled head on. A fifth of adults aged 55 and over have felt discriminated against due to be an older worker.3 Inclusive working practices, skills sharing and anti-age discrimination policies can help to create a workplace where older staff are valued for their loyalty, skills and experience. Providing more age-friendly support will help UK organisations to harness this growing and increasingly important part of the workforce, bringing benefits to both their business and the wider economy.

 

Dan Crook, Protection Sales Director, Canada Life

 

[1] ONS - https://www.ons.gov.uk/peoplepopulationandcommunity/populationandmigration/populationestimates/articles/overviewoftheukpopulation/january2021

[2] Canada Life research carried out by Opinium among 2000 UK adults between 10-14 September 2021.

[3] ONS - https://www.ons.gov.uk/employmentandlabourmarket/peopleinwork/labourproductivity/articles/sicknessabsenceinthelabourmarket/2020