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Practice Management

Older workers, one year on

It has been a year since the Employment equality age regulations came into force; their goal was
to aid in removing age barriers to employment and progression in work. This article looks at
recent research, commissioned by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP), into the phenomenon of older workers.

The DWP report suggests that the employment prospects for older workers are primarily affected by the overall labour market conditions, and that the tightening of UK labour markets has led to more employers adopting more age friendly HR policies, especially around retention of older workers and flexible working. However, the report also suggests that many employers remain unaware of future demographic pressures, so it may prove to be important to raise awareness now to encourage employers to respond.

Introduction of the regulations in 2006

At the time of the introduction of the Employment equality age regulations employers in the Northern region and the TUC gave a general welcome to them as a nudge in the right direction, a mechanism for enabling and encouraging employers to make the most of the talent in the labour pool in the region.

Between October 2006 and February 2007 alone, Jobcentre Plus helped 89,438 people over the age of 50 into work and its team of advisers continue to offer support and advice to older workers across the UK in looking for employment.

To celebrate this ongoing support, Jobcentre Plus has launched the ‘Wise Council’, a dedicated online advice forum spear-headed by inventor Trevor Baylis and supported by The Age and Employment Network (TAEN) and BT. Aimed at employers and individuals across the country, it enables older people to make the most of employment opportunities available.

How are employers acting?

Those employers that are modifying their behaviour appear to be focusing on retention of workers at 60+, while many workers aged 50 to 60 with a lot to offer are still finding themselves leaving work due to a lack of flexibility or other age friendly adjustments, including encouraging managers to invest in training older workers.

Jobcentre Plus research conducted in the last year shows positive benefits from having a mix of ages in the labour force. Carried out by the Survey Shop, the research covered a randomly selected group of 18 to 24 year workers and 50+ year old workers. 1500 interviews (750 younger workers and 750 older workers) were conducted anonymously by telephone over the period 22 to 31 August 2007.

Results show that working in a mixed age workforce are viewed as important and beneficial by around two thirds of both older and younger workers, with both groups appreciating and learning from the qualities the other brings to the workplace.

The research also reveals some interesting gender and regional variations in workplace perceptions. Whilst younger and older colleagues enjoy working together, women were more likely to give positive feedback about co-workers qualities than men. Overall, despite differences in age, differences in attitudes and the contribution of different skills to the workplace, around 95% of older workers enjoy working with their younger colleagues.

Younger workers' attitudes

Younger workers recognise experience as a key characteristic in older workers, but also identified reliability and understanding as valuable. Older workers are impressed by the energy, enthusiasm, flexibility and ability to learn quickly demonstrated by their younger colleagues. There are differences however; older workers feel younger workers are less reliable and younger workers don't see older workers being the source of innovative ideas. Overall, both groups identify the mix of ages at work as important, enjoyable and stimulating, with each developing some of the positive characteristics of the other group. Research has shown that on a national level both age groups agreed that whilst they enjoy working together there are key differences between them:

  • In all sectors, younger workers feel that older colleagues were more likely to be left in charge (60%)
  • Over half of older workers believe their younger colleagues to be more likely to take risks
  • A higher percentage of younger workers (30%) thought older workers were more willing to work anti social hours.

Whilst these differences exist, one factor which was consistent across both age groups was the main reason they come to work: money, though this was more prevalent amongst younger rather than older people (73% compared to 52%).

Finally, contrary to popular belief, only 5% of younger workers stated that they come to work to meet new people, whilst 22% of older workers confirmed that they work for personal satisfaction.

Employment equality age regulations (SI 2006/1031)
http://www.opsi.gov.uk/si/si2006/20061031.htm

Related NBS information:

Selected links:

Written October 2007

 

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