Anti-ageism code needs a promotional helping hand

Government is failing to promote its code on age diversity and employers have
not got the message yet about introducing policies to recruit and retain an
older workforce. Karen Higginbottom reports on the wide-ranging calls for
greater efforts

code of practice on age diversity is failing to have an impact on ageism in the
UK workforce two years after its introduction.

pieces of recent research, one by the Government itself, suggests that many
large employers haven’t even heard of the code – the Government’s code of
practice on Age Diversity in Employment. While some cannot see the urgency of
adopting the code – age discrimination legislation does not come into force
until 2006 – others simply do not know anything about the code.

report by IRS Management Review and the Employers Forum on Age shows that only
one in four employers has adopted the code.

also claims that only half of the 105 large organisations which responded have
put in place, or are planning to implement, policies and practices specifically
aimed at recruiting and retaining older workers. These organisations employ
1.25 million staff.

report claims that the Government has failed to communicate the business
implications of demographic change.

HR professionals agree. As Juris Grinbergs, HR director of Littlewoods,
commented, "I haven’t seen a massive amount of activity from the

is a strong business case for the Government to promote the code harder.

Baker, employment and diversity controller for B&Q, who is also on the
management board of the Employers Forum on Age, is unsurprised by the
research’s findings. He said, "These results go to the heart of the
guidelines for most companies. Unless employers start understanding the business
benefits of older workers a lot of companies will continue as they are."

argues that while legislation won’t be in place until 2006, employers should
act now because of skill shortages and an already ageing population. The
demographics support his argument. There are 18.9 million people aged 50 and
over in the UK, representing 40 per cent of the UK workforce.

the Government’s own research is critical. A report by the employment select
committee claims that only 37 per cent of employers are aware of the code. It
says the code has been insufficiently publicised and raised doubts as to
whether it would prove effective in changing company policy. It also suggests
there is a problem with HR managers effectively disseminating information about
the code within organisations.

and equal opportunities minister Margaret Hodge admitted to the select
committee on education and employment that more work needed to be done to speed
up employers’ rate of changing practices on age discrimination.

remains defiant over the Government’s commitment to combating discrimination,
however. She said, "The demographic changes that will occur within the
labour market mean the economy will not survive without using the talents and
experience of older workers." In its defence, the Government points to its
new age-positive campaign which it launched two weeks ago, in partnership with
the CIPD.

CIPD is sending out mail-shots to its members to highlight the benefits of
employing a diverse age workforce. But few believe that it is enough. Baker
believes the Government hasn’t pushed hard enough to communicate the advantages
of a mixed age workforce. He recommends the Government gets chief executives on
board to raise awareness of the issues.

argues that the Government has to go beyond piecemeal initiatives. "Age
diversity policies have to become part of the mainstream employment
policy," he said.

economic benefits of an older workforce are clear. Research by the Employers
Forum on Age shows that two- thirds of employers believe the most important
characteristic that older workers bring to their workplace is their experience,
followed by commitment and customer handling skills.

workers are more financially secure and less likely to job hop. This often leads
to a more stable workforce," said Grinbergs. Littlewoods employs a
substantial number of older workers among its 27,000 workforce, he claims.

research also shows that while two-thirds of employers monitor the age profile
of their workforce, few are examining recruitment and training decisions for
age bias.

said, "Employers have to design their recruitment and training policies to
check for age bias. Some employers have race, disability, age and gender built
into their equal opportunities policy but whether they do anything about it is
another matter."

overriding message from the two surveys of age diversity shows that the
voluntary code of practice has had a negligible impact on employers.

employers should be introducing age diversity policies well before 2006.
Eversheds lawyer Martin Hopkins claimed at a recent conference, "Age
diversity is a critical issue and on which employers must act on now. We are
advising them not to wait for the introduction of legislation."

HR experts believe the Government must grasp this opportunity to highlight the
business case for employing older workers as the research indicates this
message is not getting through to UK employers.

Mercer, campaign director of the Employers Forum on Age, urges the Government
to learn from its mistakes. She said, "While we believe the code is a
valuable document, its failure to make a significant impact reinforces the view
that more must be done to convince employers of the business benefits of an
age-diverse workforce.

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