Forthcoming discrimination legislation aimed at eradicating age bias in the workplace will force employers to confront age stereotypes.
Despite the fact that most attention has been focused on older employees, employers must be aware that this legislation applies to staff members of all ages, not just workers over 50.
To successfully accommodate employees of all different ages, it is vital for employers to understand that each age group will have distinguishing traits, and will be dri-ven by forces specific to their stage in life and their position on the career ladder.
These attributes were underlined in a report published by the Employers Forum on Age (EFA) earlier this year. Age at Work looked at the views of 1,636 employees of all ages and asked them to share their ex-pectations, frustrations, hopes and fears.
One of the more revealing findings is that 20-somethings feel that, due to their age, they are denied interesting and challenging roles. Because of this, many jump from job to job.
There is also an overwhelming feeling among younger workers that they are not provided with a clear career path to follow, and so have less incentive to remain with one employer. In fact, 70% of respondents in their 20s believe a career path is important, yet only 25% say they know where they are heading.
“Many employers do not invest adequately in younger workers,” says EFA’s director Sam Mercer. “Employers need to manage career expectations and inform workers what they can expect at different points in their careers.”
This high level of ambition among young worker comes as no surprise to Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) HR director, Angela O’Connor. She says that for people taking their first steps into the job market, knowing what employers can offer in terms of a career path is a major concern. “In most cases, that is more important than money,” she says.
For workers in their 30s, achieving an agreeable work-life balance becomes a priority. This is because, although people of this age are at the peak of their career, they are also under the most pressure at work and are often dealing with the strains of raising a young family.
According to the report, almost half of 30-somethings are unhappy with their work-life balance. Mercer feels more companies should be introducing flexible working to tackle this issue. “HR should be advising line managers on how to manage employees working flexibly,” she says.
The demands of work and family eases as employees enter their 40s, according to the findings. Nearly two-thirds of people in their 40s are happy with their work-life balance, suggesting fewer commitments at home. However, 40-somethings feel their career paths are set in stone and just half of workers of this age think a career path is important, presenting a challenge to employers to retain and keep these employees motivated.
At professional services firm PricewaterhouseCoopers, head of student recruitment and diversity, Sarah Churchman, believes this can be addressed by continuing to develop an employee and even redeploying them to give their career a new lease of life.
She says: “We ensure employees beyond the age of 40 get experience in different parts of the organisation. Some even re-train and change careers within the business.”
When it comes to 50-something employees, employers have their work cut out. There are high levels of discontent among this age group, and one-fifth say they are often put off from applying for jobs because they think they will be discriminated against because of their age.
The Work Foundation’s senior researcher, Alexandra Jones, says it is up to employers to convince older workers this won’t happen. She advises employers to add the line ‘applications are welcome from individuals of all ages’ at the bottom of job advertisements.
Giving older workers access to training and development and encouraging internal job applications from mature employees are other ways of breaking down barriers, she says.
The report also highlights that many employees in their 50s feel the quality of their work decreases as they get older.
This presents a challenge for the HR profession, especially in the industrial/manual sectors, where 43% of older workers in skilled manual roles believe age affects performance. Moving people from heavy manual jobs to roles that are less physically demanding as they get older should be common practice in these industries.
With a workforce made up of engineers carrying out strenuous work, this is an issue BT is only too aware of. According to BT’s people networks manager, Becky Mason, the telecoms firm has a well-developed redeployment process in place, which looks at re-assigning people to different roles.
“This involves working with people to ascertain their aspirations and needs and then matching them to jobs,” says Mason.
As employees make it through this difficult period, the good news is that those who remain at work during their 60s are the happiest of all the age groups. More than 90% of the over-60s like work, says the report, although one in five say they are dreading life after retirement.
This, says Mercer, shows employers have to adopt a flexible approach to retirement, as the government’s current default retirement age of 65 doesn’t suit everyone.
Overall, the report underlines the need for employers to develop HR systems that are sensitive to individual needs at different life stages. Mercer says this can be achieved by being mindful of the issues likely to affect different age groups, but at the same time considering people as individuals.
“In doing that, you can create a better fit between work patterns and the needs of individuals and, ultimately, get more out of people,” she says.
Doyin Oworu is a 29-year-old finance manager who works at the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS). She joined the CPS when she was 24 in an administrative role and then took a nine-month break to study for an accountancy and finance degree before re-joining the CPS.
She says: “When I re-joined the CPS, I was able to continue with my accountancy and finance degree at college while working a 20-hour week. Once I had the qualifications, a position became available and I became an activity-based costings analyst.”
According to Oworu, an advantage of working for the CPS is the support and flexibility that is provided. “If I need a day off, I have that flexibility,” she says. ” I was quite lucky as by the time I finished study, the CPS was creating positions for those people who had accountancy qualifications.”
Like her 20-something counterparts, career development is very important to Oworu. “One of the main attractions of working for the CPS is the on-the-job training provided here,” she says.
Andrea Hughes is a 39-year-old senior community manager who has worked for Barclaycard for the past eight years. Her 30s have been a period of change for her. She got married, had two children, and is currently pregnant with a third.
“Having children changes your attitude to work, as you’ve got another element to your life and you strive to get a balance you are comfortable with,” she says.
Hughes sees combining work and family commitments as a positive experience – especially as Barclaycard has been extremely accommodating during her pregnancies. “I was given time off to attend ante-natal appointments and I’ve always had supportive managers.”
Hughes works full-time, but on a flexible basis now her children are older. She is reluctant to leave Barclaycard because of its family-friendly environment. “If I did leave, it would only be for another employer that offered the flexibility Barclaycard does,” she says.
Although Hughes admits that her career has ‘plateaued’ in her 30s, she still wants to do ‘challenging’ work.
Tracie Bailey, 40, works at Lombard, part of the Royal Bank of Scotland, as a senior manager in administration. She is married with 10-year-old twins and works a four-day week from 6:30am to 7:30pm. “When I came to RBS, I was already on a four-day working week from my previous job and I made it clear at the interview that I wanted that to continue,” she says.
According to Bailey, there is a lot of management discretion towards balancing family and work life. “If I want to take my kids to school two days a week, it’s not written into my contract, it’s just an understanding,” she says.
But holding down a corporate career and managing a family wouldn’t be possible without the support of her husband, a self-employed carpenter. “If I didn’t have a house-husband, it would be a real struggle,” she says.
Bailey is still ambitious about developing her career and believes she would experience ageism if applying for a job outside of RBS now she is in her 40s. “I think that I would struggle outside because of my age,” she says.
Dave Evans is a 58-year old service engineer with British Gas, who was made redundant from his staff job in 1990.
After redundancy, he worked for a num-ber of freelance contractors, but after his first freelance job, he was unemployed for two months. “When I applied for jobs, employers said I was too old, so I stopped putting my age on the application form and got a job soon after,” he says.
In 1999, Evans was re-hired by British Gas as the company was suffering from a shortage of engineers. The firm offered him the chance to do lighter duties and more regular hours so he could spend more time with his family. “I don’t have to do shifts or call-outs in the evenings unless I choose to,” he says.
Evans believes employers that dismiss people on the basis of their age, without taking into account their skills, are missing out in a big way.
“It’s sad that only companies like B&Q will employ older people. They are more reliable and, while they might lack physical skills, older people are very valuable in the workplace,” he says.
Janet Tarling is 62 and works as a secretarial temp for recruitment agency Blue Arrow. She took early retirement at 60, but wanted to get back into employment and applied for several jobs.
“I wasn’t very successful in looking for secretarial work,” she says. “I did get some interviews and got through to a second interview with one company, but at the last hurdle they said they had given the position to someone else.”
Although age was never mentioned during these interviews, Tarling suspects that it was a reason behind not getting the jobs. She approached several temping agencies as she felt that they could offer her more flexibility in her working hours.
Her experiences have changed her views of retirement.
“Before I retired, I had a rosy view of retirement, but I think you must be practical about it as lots of things cost money and your income goes down,” she says. “While I am hale and hearty, I might as well go on working to enjoy the nice things in life.”