Companies which fail to recognise the value of an age-diverse workforce face losing out in financial performance.
Speaking at the launch of the Employers' Forum on Age campaign for commitment to age diversity, Denise Walker, head of personnel at Nationwide, said that in the past the company had failed to retain older staff, and as a result had been hit by a debilitating loss of corporate memory.
The building society has since introduced a range of policies to address the issue. These include adding age discrimination to its equal opportunities policy, removing age bars from recruitment adverts and introducing telephone shortlisting. This approach has resulted in a more age diverse workforce (see box).
Walker said that at Nationwide older employees were often more effective at certain roles because of experience, highlighting mortgage advisers as an example.
Also speaking at the launch, DfEE equal opportunities minister Margaret Hodge said that in contrast to the breaking down of racial and gender barriers at work, age discrimination appears to be increasing, at a terrific cost to the economy.
Among solutions being considered by the DfEE are ratifying Article 13 of the Amsterdam Treaty, which would lead to enforcement procedures on age discrimination, and a review of the pensions system.
Hodge admitted that even government departments were not without problems. "Still too many bits of the Civil Service have ridiculous limits on when people have to retire," she said.
By Tom Powdrill
Age diversity: the Nationwide structure
• 9 per cent of employees are over 50, compared with 1.5 per cent at the beginning of the 1990s
• 40 per cent are under 30
• Of over-50s staff, 96 per cent are rated good or above and 32 per cent rated excellent or exceptional in the company's appraisal scheme
• All financial consultants over 50 are rated as excellent or exceptional