Educate recruiters first to employ older workers

Adair Turner, chairman of the independent Pensions Commission, has just concluded the long-awaited review of the UK pension’s deficit.

Adair said: “We must now make adjustments which we should ideally have begun 20 to 30 years ago.” His report, entitled Pensions: Challenges and Choices, suggests that we basically have four options. We can either: pay extra taxes, retire later, become poorer as pensioners, or save more money today. He recommends a combination of all four.

So how, if at all, should the HR function respond to such a set of challenges and choices? I think our key area of focus should be on the ‘retire later’ option. This has three strands, the first being to help and encourage existing employees to retire later in life.

Ideas to encourage employees to remain at work could include a change of job or hours. Many older workers would prefer a less stressful job in the latter years, but they are often discouraged by the perceived stigma of taking a ‘lower profile’ role. We need to remove that stigma.

We also need to address our job attraction strategies to ensure we encourage candidates of all ages to apply for roles. We can all learn from the approach taken by B&Q and Asda in attracting and employing mature employees. More than 16 per cent of Asda’s workforce is over 50, and more than 1,000 employees are over the age of 65.

Last but not least – and this may be the hardest of thing of all – we need to encourage our hiring managers to recruit from a mixture of age groups.

I suspect that the majority of us are ageist in one respect or another – my fiance certainly believes the over-50s should bow out gracefully and not bother the younger generation.

HR recruitment policies can try to mandate the hiring of older employees in the same way as positive discrimination policies and practices. But does it work? I’ve seen a recruitment process that removes the date of birth from CV’s to discourage a manager from being ageist, but I’m sure a quick look at work experience and education would enable a manager to make a good guess at an applicant’s age.

I think our efforts should be on educating hiring managers rather than pure policy. The publicity around Adair’s report may help in this arena. Yet, emotionally, managers will still need to be convinced that the older generation can bring levels of competency, skills, knowledge, performance and loyalty at a more competitive rate than the younger generation.

HR’s challenge is to think now about how the people policies and more importantly, culture and behaviour, can help to alleviate the pensions problem – rather than waiting for another 20 years.

By Alan Bailey, head of business process outsourcing, Xchanging

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