Ageing workforce issue now a matter of extreme urgency

ageing population is set to have many far-reaching consequences for business,
stretching far beyond simply complying with anti-discriminatory legislation
into areas such as flexibility and care at work

intermittently hits the headlines, and there are some scary demographics out

40 per cent of the UK adult population is currently aged over 50, and this
proportion is growing. The Government estimates that the over-50s will have
increased by a further three million by 2020, while the number of younger
workers will fall.

top of this, the Government is planning to implement new laws against age
discrimination in employment by 2006, with the second stage of the consultation
on this legislation in two day’s time.

is clear that HR will have to come to terms with the implications of these
demographic and legislative trends. There are tough, long-term challenges
ahead: how will employers manage an ageing workforce, and how can we support
the rising number of staff who will have to spend more years caring for elderly
parents than looking after their own kids?

employees working for longer, a better quality of working life will become more
important, and flexibility will be key to achieving this. Employers will need
to customise HR policies to take into account the increasing demands for
flexibility from older staff looking to work part-time or retire gradually. Yet
41 per cent of the senior HR people who took part in a recent Ceridian
Centrefile survey report that they do not feel able to offer flexibility to the
majority of their staff. Until both the real and perceived barriers to
flexibility are removed, employers will not win and retain the best older

of pace will also come increasingly to the fore. The issue of how to manage
extended careers – including those of high-flying executives – will have
far-reaching implications for the architecture of our organisations.  Most obviously, strategies to deal with
periods of prolonged absence through illness will be required, and sabbaticals
may become routine as periods of respite from a lengthened career.

concrete changes, such as developing methods of sustaining employee motivation
and changing the youth-orientated culture of many workplaces, will take time to
plan and effect.

addition, employers will have to examine individual and institutional attitudes
to older staff, not least because of the potential legal penalties. Culturally,
there is a common perception that an ageing workforce will be resistant to
technology and change, but this is set to be challenged by the ‘baby-boom’
generation – a group that has continually defied age-based stereotypes. It is
impossible to predict how subsequent generations of workers will adapt to the
challenges of prolonged working lives, but it is certain that training and
development will be crucial in keeping their skills and abilities fluid and

to these concerns, we need to be aware that employees will have increasing
responsibilities for elderly relatives, often just as they reach their own
career peaks. Our survey found that 86 per cent of employers anticipate that
care issues will have an impact on the way they interact with staff over the
next decade. Companies may already be experiencing an upsurge in individuals
seeking help with the care of elderly relatives.

the US, where these ageing and caring trends are more developed, studies show
that more than half of North American families expect to have eldercare
responsibilities within the next decade.

responsibilities are already exacting a high price from both employers and
staff in the US. Half of employed carers of the elderly reported taking time
off, coming in later, or working fewer hours, and 6 per cent stopped working
altogether. In total, it is reported that at least 50 working hours are lost
each year by staff involved with caring for the elderly in the US.

creatively about how business can make the most of demographic changes in the
long-term should now be a priority for forward-looking companies and HR
practitioners. Complying with the imminent legislation is only the beginning.

Penny de Valk, Group director, Ceridian Centrefile

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