Older and better

Mike
Berry meets some of the HR team at South West Trains to find out how the
company manages older workers

South
West Trains values its older employees and ‘never stops developing them’, according
to its HR team. The company takes pride in the way it looks after its older
staff and encourages them to stay working for as long as possible.

Perversely,
says HR director Beverley Shears, it is the trade unions at the company that
campaign for the lowering of retirement age. "What that means in practice
is we spend a lot of money on training our people, who are then compulsory
retired by the unions who don’t condone train drivers working over 65. Their
view is that it takes jobs from younger drivers," she says.

Shears
thinks you can easily balance the argument for employing older workers as they
haven’t got the huge financial demands younger people have – such as child care
costs – and can be more flexible with working hours.

Natalie
Teesdale, policy and change manager, reinforces this: "We do have a number
of people who retire and actually come back to us looking to do other jobs
within the company. A lot of people who are coming towards retirement age look
to change roles, for example train drivers wanting to work in the office."

"Older
workers are not interested in the cultural arguments about whether they should
be there – they actually just want to do their job," she says. "I
think when people have done a lot of years with a company they get to like the
people, the environment and the team dynamic is very important to them.
Therefore, why do they have to leave? Why would they want to retire?"

Margaret
Kay, head of HR, believes that with a lot of industries in the UK this subject
wouldn’t even be discussed. "They have moved away from the idea that as
you get older you deteriorate. As HR professionals we must get rid of this
notion."

"I
suspect some of the more macho industries think you reach your peak at 35 and
it’s downhill after that. But, for the majority of companies, age has never
really been an issue," she says.

Linda
Castle, head of resourcing and development, points to the fact that people
often feel more reassured if you have someone more mature in a customer-facing
role.

"The
customer prefers to have someone around who they can rely on and trust,"
she says. "But I suppose it depends on the company – if you are trying to
portray a young, sexy, go-ahead image, then they might worry about having
people work for them who don’t fit with that."

Kay
adds: "I think the positives for our industry in particular is that it has
opened up a pool of people that we wouldn’t have traditionally considered.
There are certainly more positive aspects than negative."

South
West Trains was one of the first companies in the rail industry to remove any
notional upper hiring limit. Shears says this has been a huge success:
"We’ve had ex-bank managers joining us in their late 40s and 50s.

"It
changes the culture in an organisation because they are very good at telling
other people about how they are enjoying themselves and how it was worse where
they worked before," she says.

Kay
urges companies to look at their recruitment policies and ask any questions to
why they haven’t attracted older people. "There might be some prejudices
you need to address, because you don’t become sick or lose your marbles after
45 years of age."

The
final message for HR professionals comes from Shears: "Remember everyone
who works for the company is an individual and they can contribute to the
business regardless of their age."

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