Shortlisted team for DfEE Award for Age Diversity: Personnel Today Awards 2000

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Last year the DfEE published a code of practice on age diversity in employment which aims to help tackle age discrimination in the workplace. The DfEE was keen to call on the expertise of a range of partners, and the CBI, TUC, Age Concern, IPD, Institute of Managers, Employers’ Forum on Age and the Recruitment and Employment Confederation lent their help and advice.

Margaret Hodge, minister for employment and equal opportunities, also launched a campaign to raise the profile of the issue of age discrimination and to promote the code’s messages


It is 10 years since B&Q launched its pioneering age diversity project by staffing its Macclesfield store entirely with people aged over 50. Since then age diversity has been top of the agenda at the DIY retailer and its name has become synonymous with employing older people. This year to mark the 10th anniversary of the Macclesfield experiment and to reinforce its commitment to age diversity, it has re-launched its age policy, introducing changes to reflect the concerns of its staff today.

Each of B&Q’s 300 stores has an objective to employ a workforce that reflects the make-up of the local community, but with an emphasis on employing people over 50. The emphasis on older workers came in response to customer comments that they wanted to be served by someone who had lived in their own home and knew something about DIY.

Targeting older workers was seen as a way of avoiding the cost of high staff turnover which is particularly a problem among 17 to 21 year olds. Older workers were also seen as an under-used pool of talent that was available to the company at a time when it was expanding rapidly. The Macclesfield test proved that there were demonstrable business benefits in employing an older workforce and B&Q has been committed to employing over 50s ever since.

Recruitment at B&Q is co-ordinated centrally but the field-based HR teams are responsible for encouraging people from the local community to apply. If the store is in a retirement area, where the number of older staff at the store needs to be higher to reflect the local population, the HR professionals at the store will target local senior citizens clubs and magazines in the recruitment drive. Field HR works closely with store managers to ensure that the age policy is embedded in the culture of the shop floor and is not just an HR issue. In fact, commitment to the issue comes right from the top – managing director Martin Toogood is a vocal champion of the strategy.

B&Q has become an authority on employing older workers. Not only is it regularly cited as a good practice model by other companies but it is one of the founder members of the Employers’ Forum on Age and an adviser to the Government on over 50s employment policy. But B&Q is not resting on its laurels. Last year, in response to employee focus groups, it changed its policy on retirement. Previously staff over 60 could stay on a fixed term two year contract, which could be renewed every two years. Now there is no automatic retirement age, although people over 60 can choose to reduce their hours or change their role. For example, if they no longer feel strong enough to work in the store they could transfer to the less physically-demanding role of expert adviser.

Other developments include the scrapping of the age restriction for graduate traineeships, and disability awareness promotion, especially relating to impairment caused by the onset of age. Next on the agenda is a strategic review of work/life balance, targeted predominantly but not exclusively at the older worker.

Company fact file

Team B&Q

Team leader Kay Allen, diversity manager

Number in HR team 3, others are Melissa Godfray and Sue O’Neill, diversity co-ordinators

Number of employees responsible for 100,000

Main achievements Reducing turnover and improving customer service by targeting staff aged over 50. Establishing B&Q as a model for age diversity in the workplace and as an adviser to government on the issue priorities for next 12 months To begin establishing the kind of success achieved in age diversity in other areas; specifically disability and race. Developing a work/life balance strategy. There are also plans to set up a diversity chat room on the company intranet and to launch a diversity news letter

Judge’s comments “All three short-list companies can justifiably lay claim to be leading edge age diversity employers. B&Q has long been recognised as leaders in the field of age diversity, from the early success of its Macclesfied site, through to a range of impressive diversity monitoring policies and innovative retirement policies”

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