How employers can prevent age discrimination in the workplace
Age discrimination in the workplace has increased during the COVID-19 pandemic. The Centre for Ageing Better found that the furlough scheme closure in the UK has resulted in a significant wave of redundancies affecting those 50 and older. Since the onset of the pandemic, the unemployment rate among the 50 to 64 age group rose by 0.6 percentage points (from 2.8% to 3.4%). 31,000 employees in the over 50s age group were made redundant between May and July 2021.
Long-term trends of rising employment among older workers are now reversed, according to Stuart Lewis, founder of Rest Less – the UK’s fastest-growing digital community for over 50s. In the UK, 80% of employment growth came from over 50s before the start of the pandemic. He added that more people in the age group are now either choosing or being forced to take early retirement – even though many do not feel ready for it financially or emotionally.
In this Pacific Prime UK article, we address ageism in the workplace and how employers can become more age-friendly.
Age bias in the workplace
After being made redundant, older workers take the longest to return to the workplace on average. Another study found that over a third (36%) of 50 to 70 year olds feel at a disadvantage at every stage of the recruitment process due to their age – from the language used in job adverts to interviews.
Many older workers are told they’re “overqualified” for the job, though Lewis believes that the real concern is that those with more experience will get bored, be hard to manage and so on. However, instead of discussing these concerns directly with the candidate, many recruiters simply dismiss them as part of the “overqualified” group.
According to Angela Watson, Business in the Community (BITC) Age Campaign Manager, candidates who are over 50 are usually overlooked due to age bias in the workplace and in recruitment processes. Additionally, older workers have either been laid off or on long-term furlough as a result of the pandemic.
The benefits of older workers
Even so, older workers are a valuable and skilled resource. Employing older workers has many benefits for businesses, the workforce and the economy. They bring prior knowledge and experience, as well as boost profits and customer reach. An age-diverse workforce reduces turnover costs as well.
Examples of ways employers can take action to become more age-friendly include:
- Mid-life MOTs/check-ups for employees in their 40s, 50s and 60s, focusing on key areas like wellbeing, work and finances
- Age-friendly recruitment strategies
- Support for carers
- Age-inclusive policies (e.g. flexible working, additional wellbeing support, etc.)
- Ageless apprenticeships
Age-inclusive workplaces that recognise the value of older workers and reflect it in their strategies and policies benefit from multigenerational workforces made up of skilled older and younger employees who collaborate with and learn from each other.
How to become an age-friendly employer
In order to become an age-friendly business, employers need to address age discrimination in the Diversity & Inclusion (D&I) conversation. Organisations are still commonly looking for what they believe to be an “ideal candidate” by indicating desired years of experience. For example, job listings often mention looking for someone with X years of experience or within a specific age bracket. Discriminatory practices such as these are outdated and should no longer exist.
Offering flexible working arrangements, investing in Learning and Development (L&D) and supporting workforce health and wellbeing are great places to start. On top of that, it’s advisable to update outdated and discriminatory search processes. Not only does this help avoid ageism, but also offers access to wider talent pools and different communities.
Hiring managers should also receive training so they can recognise the value that older candidates can bring to the workforce. What’s more, implementing wellbeing strategies can help avoid menopausal discrimination in the workplace. To support the UK’s fastest-growing work demographic, employers are encouraged to make adjustments such as flexible working arrangements, offering counselling and support and providing desk fans.
New possibilities moving forward
Even though age discrimination issues are ongoing, now is an ideal time to embrace new possibilities moving forward. The shift towards flexible and hybrid working arrangements post-pandemic has opened doors for older workers who may have previously been left out due to overly rigid HR policies. As the hiring market becomes increasingly demanding, employers are driven to consider untapped talent pools such as by investing in reskilling and upskilling older candidates.
An ageing population, delayed retirement and multigenerational workforces are trends that will continue indefinitely. By recognising this early, HR teams and employers can get a head start and embrace it before the competition, resulting in thriving workforces and businesses in years to come.
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