Older workers adding value – four case studies

Agewell – Sandwell Primary Care Trust

Sandwell Primary Care Trust provides NHS primary care for people in Oldbury, Rowley Regis, Smethwick, Tipton, Wednesbury and West Bromwich.The trust employs 1,269 people, 24% of whom are aged 50 or over.

Agewell is the community development side of the business, undertaking consultation work with older people about issues of interest to them in Sandwell and helping them get their views across.

Between 2001 and 2003, Sandwell ran the largest of eight national pre-retirement healthcheck pilots, targeting people aged 50 to 65. The pilots showed that conventional pre-retirement initiatives were not appropriate and were often delivered too late to be able to make any significant changes. Agewell started its Midlife Planning initiative to target people at an age when they can still make changes and take control of their future.

Stuart Munger is Agewell’s Midlife Planning co-ordinator. Once the pilot scheme had shown the flaw in pre-retirement provisions, he and his colleagues investigated what companies were offering their staff. The results were not encouraging – companies were targeting people just two to five years before retirement, providing information on post-retirement finance, but very little else.

“Health didn’t seem to be an issue,” says Munger.

The Midlife Planning team spoke to a number of people about their needs. Most said they wanted information before it was too late – ideally when they were aged between 45 and 50 – across four categories: finance, health, leisure and relationships.

Munger says the area of relationships hadn’t been picked up on before.

“People were saying: ‘When I retire, I’ll have to spend 24 hours a day with my partner’, whereas before they tended to spend most of their time with their colleagues.”

Leisure was another less obvious area – people without hobbies suddenly had to think of ways to fill their time. Munger says: “It’s not retirement, it’s just another stage of life”.

Having originally focused on the NHS, today Midlife Planning can provide pre-retirement courses for any kind of business, anywhere in the country. It now generates income, and any revenue made gets fed back into its budget.

It recently ran a pre-retirement course for a local housing association thatwanted all its staff, regardless of age, to attend. Munger says: “The two sessions were packed, with more than 40 people turning up. There were quite a few people in their 20s, who were there partly to pick up information to feed back to their parents.”

Midlife Planning’s next step is to deliver a series of courses in conjunction with its mental health team, which has recognised the benefits of the courses in terms of the mental wellbeing of people who are retiring. And, given the state of the economy, Munger is also keen that the courses focus on financial elements.

BT Group

With 95,000 staff in the UK, BT has long considered itself an age-neutral organisation, but new legislationmade the company re-examine its approach to retirement.

It traditionally had a retirement age of 60, but BT now allows its employees to retire when they want to, as long as there is a role for them, and their performance and health are satisfactory.

Dennis Gissing, head of diversity practice,says: “We did retain the legal ability to retire people at 65, but we haven’t actually done this yet.

“We’ve found that, as our organisation has aged, we’ve not become less efficient, but have retained a lot of knowledge and experience. All that has happened is that our age demographic has changed in line with the working population.”

BT has worked to ensure that all of its policies and practices are age-neutral. While it is legally obliged to do so, the company has seen this as an extremely positive process, which has reinforced to staff that opportunities are open to everyone, regardless of age. BT has also lifted the age restrictions on its graduate scheme, and has at least one graduate in their 50s.

“What you should be clear on as an employer is the need to open up all opportunities. Make sure, for instance, that training and development are available for all ages – not just focused early on in people’s careers,” says Gissing.

BT offers a wide variety of flexible work arrangements through its Achieving the Balance portfolio, which can be hugely beneficial to older employees making a transition from full-time employment to retirement.

The Career Life Planning Tool assists employees in developing their careers at every stage, accounting for changes that may emerge during employment.

Classified data delivery team member Sandra Done, 63, has benefited from this flexibility.

By working nine days out of every 10, she has been able to cope with the limitations caused by her osteoporosis, and has stayed at BT beyond the traditional retirement age. The company helped her to move into a role better suited to her level of mobility and, in turn, has benefited from her experience.

“One of our principles around the business case for diversity is that our employeebase should match our customerbase,” says Gissing.

“The better we understand the communities we work with, the better able we are to deliver what they need, and understand the issues.”


Energy provider Centrica, which owns British Gas, was an early advocate of the need for an age-diverse workforce, recognising the value of older workers, particularly in an industry where staff visit customers in their own homes.

The Employers’ Forum on Age (EFA) undertook research across Centrica’s business units, and found two main issues. First, there was a slight age imbalance in some businesses. For instance, at British Gasthere were more older workers than at British Gas Business. Second, staff were still having to deal with myths and stereotypes surrounding older and younger workers.

On the back of these findings, Centrica introduced a range of initiatives. Key among these is its Age Action Group, which encourages managers from across the business to deliver an action planaccommodating the company’s ageing workforce, and its age awareness e-learning package.

Melanie Flogdell, head of HR policy at Centrica, pulled together the Age Action Group, which scrutinised the company’s policies and practices to try to identify changes, so they would meet or go beyond compliance with the legislation – ‘age-proofing’ the organisation.

Flogdell explains: “We had already taken age off application and monitoring forms, but we also reviewed our recruitment materialto ensure we were using age-diverse images. We reviewed the wording of our ads, too, to make sure we weren’t using phrases such as ‘looking for a young, dynamic team member’.”

Centrica then actively recruited older workers into the businesses with a younger age profile, and younger workers into its engineering academy.

Centrica provides online diversity and inclusion training for all staff. The first component, which is 15 minutes long, is compulsory. Itconsists of a briefing onage legislation; defines direct and indirect discrimination, harassment and bullying;and gives examples of what could be deemed an act of bullying, and so on. It also includes demographics about the ageing population.

The secondcomponent is 30 minutes long and is aimed at line managers, HR managers, and those involved in recruitment, selection and training. It outlines how the age legislation could affect recruitment, training, promotion and retirement.

Both modules end with a quiz and staff who do not meet the minimum required score must retake the training. Flogdell says feedback from staff has been good.

“Most people felt they had learnt something, and felt more confident raising age issues with their colleagues or line managers,” she says.

“Afterwards, a lot of people phoned me to ask whether something could constitute, for example, bullying. For me, this demonstrates that the training had an impact on people, and that they will think twice before acting in future.”

Domestic & General Group

Domestic appliance insurer Domestic & General (D&G) has 712 employees, 9% of whom are aged 50 or over (the workforce ranges in age from 16 to 71). The company actively seeks to attract and retain older workers.

HR manager Tracy Burrell believes that what sets D&G’s age-positive recruitment process apart is its practice of conducting initial interviews by telephone. “This means there is no way of knowing how old that person is,” she says.

This is an especially appropriate method given that the bulk of the people recruited are call centre staff, for whom good telephone skills are vital.

Recruitment and induction processes are adapted according to the target group. “We did the induction for school leavers in bite-sized chunks, while with mature workers we focused on skills training,” explains Burrell.

Age ambassadors represent D&G at recruitment fairs, where they discuss their experiences with potential employees, emphasising the benefits of having a balanced workforce.

One such age ambassador joined as a call centre agent, and is now a team leader, says Burrell: “Since joining, she has recommended us to her daughter and granddaughter, who both now work here.”

The benefits of hiring older workers are clear to Burrell.

“As a company, we offer domestic appliance cover and deal with technical queries. We find that our mature workers have much more empathy with our customers. They understand the issues that the person at the other end of the telephone is having.

“When we speak to our age ambassadors, they tell us how much they enjoy working with younger people. It keeps them young, and gives them a fresh perspective. To have that balance across the call centres is very important to us.”

D&G is constantly recruiting, as the business is relatively seasonal. The company’s ‘recommend a friend’ system has been especially effective, as have its open days for potential employees.

However, Burrell acknowledges that call centres have a poor reputation as employers. “One of our big aims this year is to make sure people understand that they can come here and have a career,” she says.

“We may have future managers among those who are embracing our training and development. They could be working their way up through the call centres, or could be interested in other jobs around the call centres – for instance, HR.”

And D&G’s older workers are every bit as keen on training as their younger colleagues. In 2008, the firm launched Route to Success, a programme offering staff various ‘junctions’ of training, giving them greater business awareness, and making sure they are geared up for opportunities when they arrive. That has been a real benefit to the company’s succession planning, says Burrell.


Chris Ball, managing director of The Age and Employment Network (TAEN), says: “We have always been keen to publicise good policies and practice in the employment of older people.

“We were therefore delighted to work with AARP to promote the first International Innovative Employer Award.

“It is particularly pleasing to see that four UK companies won recognition for their industry-leading employment policies – the highest number of awards for a participating country. We will be

working to encourage more employers to apply in 2009.”

To apply go to www.taen.org.uk/news/AARP.htm


Age Isn’t an Issue is a new publication from Age Positive, a Department forWork and Pensions initiative that aims to help employers reap the business benefits of an age-diverse workforce.

The free guide covers the whole cycle of a person’s employment, from recruitment through to retirement, and is filled with practical guidance and tips. It also contains case study examples from a range of businesses that are already successfully tapping into this pool of talent.

See this week’s issue of Personnel Today for your copy.

To download the guide or request extra copies, visit www.agepositive.gov.uk

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