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 Insurance 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 are 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 four of them (27%) expect to retire after their 75th birthday.
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 over 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 65,2 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 persistent back pain, a condition that becomes more common with rising age. Small changes to office equipment, such as providing adjustable or more comfortable seating, can make a big difference and create a more supportive environment.
Retaining and retraining for a range of skills
It’s not just about providing the right equipment though. In the case of older workers, a supportive environment also means that (re-)training and upskilling opportunities are available where they are required.
Many employers overlook the opportunity that lies in the training of older workers. However, firms should be taking into account the differences in training motivation - older employees get higher returns from informal and role-relevant training rather than wider business or industry training.
From a business perspective, an underlying assumption that investment in training of older workers does not yield a fast enough return has also been proven wrong. In fact, most training returns an investment within a year and the risk of an employee leaving the company after receiving training is the same across all age groups and isn’t limited to those approaching retirement.
The perception of older workers amongst younger employees still leaves a lot to be desired. Nearly a third (30%) are concerned that they make it harder for young people to move up the career ladder, or that they don’t have the right skills to offer anything to a 21st century workforce. To support an ageing workforce, employees need to encourage inclusive working practices and skill sharing across all ages.
Employers have a significant role to play in changing the way we view older workers, and often small changes can have a big impact. Almost two thirds (60%) of UK employees say they’d be more inclined to work for an employer that supported their health and wellbeing when thinking about working past 65. By adapting and providing more ageing-friendly support, employers will be in a better place to engage, retain and support workers valuable to their own business and the whole economy.
 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