Barometer: Coming of age

JUDY GREADY, Director of corporate responsibility and diversity, Centrica

It’s a bit of a false idea that people can work perfectly well at 64 and then suddenly turn 65 and not be up to scratch. To be retired because you’re one day older doesn’t make sense, so there’s no reason why people shouldn’t work on for longer if they’re able to do so.

But at the same time, it does raise the question of whether people are fit to continue working. A lot depends on the role they’re doing, as it’s a lot easier to judge a situation with a physical requirement.

It will also ask people to take a close look at their performance management schemes to see how effective they are. There’s a good chance that many firms will have to get a lot better at performance management as it’s going to be increasingly important to not base decisions on stereotypes of what people from certain ages can do. Regardless of the regulations, there are still a lot of stereotypes about older workers rooted in people’s minds.

At the same time, there’s also the issue of what the individual wants. Most people will not want to continue working full-time, but take a slow retreat into retirement. Flexibility may be the key to this, and firms that don’t want to lose corporate knowledge, will have to adapt to meet people’s requirements.

So it is going to be quite tricky. For a start, there are unlikely to be hordes of people asking to work for any longer than they have to. And those that do will have to be treated on an individual basis.

Jane Basley, Retail resourcing and development manager, Sainsbury’s

We have a long record of employing older workers and really value the life skills they bring, as they know the importance of listening to people, being polite and trying to understand what the customers are looking for. Plus, they’ve been customers themselves for a long time and know how they like to be treated when they go shopping.

It is because of this that around 20% of our workforce is now aged over 50. But we don’t simply try to employ older workers, as it is important for us to reflect the communities we serve.

When staff are on the shop floor they work in teams of mixed ages and this allows them all to influence each other. For instance, an older worker may teach someone the importance of being polite, whereas a younger one will keep the older generation up to speed on the latest music.

So it really works both ways. However, the important thing is to have the age mix there in the first place. And if the regulations do come into force then more companies will discover the benefits of working in this way.

But firms have to make older workers feel part of the team and provide all of the necessary training they need to get to grips with the job. If an older worker doesn’t like what’s going on or how they’re being treated, they will simply vote with their feet.

Margarita McNee, Employment relations training and development specialist, B&Q

The new legislation is important because people shouldn’t be forced to retire if they want to keep on working. We got rid of forced retirement in 1989 and around 22% of our 38,000 staff are now over 50. In fact, our oldest employee is 92 and we also have one who is 90.

We did this because we found lots of people wanted to keep working for us after 65 and it seemed to be such a massive shame to lose enthusiastic people who had so much experience.

Since then, we have removed any barriers that may have prevented people from working past 65, such as fixed-term contracts, and made sure that if people want to work later in life, they keep their continuity of service.

We have never had a problem with employing older staff. However, it is important to make sure they get the same training and promotion chances as everyone else.

There are also a number of service-related issues like company sick pay and benefits, that have to be looked at to make sure that older workers are not indirectly discriminated against.

But if you get it right there can be massive benefits to the firm. We opened a Macclesfield store in 1991 that was only staffed by people aged over 50. Within months profits had increased by 18%, staff turnover had fallen by six times and absenteeism was reduced by 39%. Customer satisfaction with the service had also massively increased.

Patrick Grattan, Chief executive, Third Age Employment Network

We support the legislation for the simple reason that discrimination on grounds of age is actually the most widely reported and it will help the economy and employers if we tackle it.

At the moment the employment rate of people over 50 is 11% lower than for other age groups. That means there are around 1.45 million people who could be working that are currently dependent on us.

Employing them could add an extra £30bn to the economy. It would also bring back lots of people with skills, ability and experience who are not being used, even though they’re just as productive as anyone else and likely to be paid less.

And although a voluntary code has been introduced before, we favour legislation because it will change the climate and remove the knee-jerk reaction at 65. Employers will now be forced to consider an older worker on their ability rather than their age, and ask if it’s justifiable for them to retire at 65.

But this doesn’t mean it will be easy. Employers will need to check out their recruitment arrangements, remuneration policies and loyalty payments to see if they’re based on age. They’ll also have to check up on their attitude to promotion and training to make sure that it is fair across the board.

If you run a company with 1,000 employees and find that only 20 of them are over 50, that’s not proof of discrimination. But people may also ask why you have so few older workers when they make up 25-30% of the working population.




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