Healthy approach will help fill gaps

The ageing workforce poses significant challenges to the NHS. We cannot afford any form of age discrimination if we are to retain and get the best out of older staff.

It is encouraging that most respondents to Personnel Today’s survey clearly believe that older workers have much to offer in terms of experience, efficiency and reliability. However, we must also pay attention to retaining younger workers and giving them opportunities to develop.

The NHS is taking part in research to help us ensure that we are targeting our HR policies to the different needs of every segment of the workforce. And the Department of Health and the NHS have been participating in a major international programme called ‘Demography is Destiny’, led by Ken Dychtwald, author of The Age Wave.

The programme was set up to address the workforce issues that will occur in almost all the developed countries over the next decade – as the post-war baby boomer generation approaches retirement age. This is a significant issue for the NHS as retirement from the nursing workforce is projected to grow steadily, and in 10 years’ time, the numbers retiring each year could be 10,000 higher than today.

The solutions, which involve retaining older workers, maximising the effective use of scarce skills and tapping into new sources of recruitment both at home and abroad, will lead to growing diversity in the workforce. This will include older workers, many above the current retirement age, working alongside workers in their 20s or 30s.

It became clear that the ‘one-size-fits-all’ employment packages, which we have today, would not produce the best results. So a second programme, ‘The Employer, Employee Equation’, has been de-veloping a diagnostic tool, which will identify the main segments of the workforce and the HR policies that are most likely to retain and motivate each of them.

Already, the research has produced some significant insights. For example, the group showing the highest level of ‘burn-out’ is not the over-50s, but those in their 30s, juggling the demands of work, families and financial burdens. In fact, the over-50s – relieved of many of these burdens – are often those most open to new challenges.

The NHS already has many of the tools in place through other programmes, such as ‘Improving Working Lives’ and the ‘Skills Escalator’. The review of the NHS pension scheme is also looking at ways to increase flexibility and encourage the retention of workers eligible for retirement.
The benefits of this research and its diagnostic tool will be to enable managers to further target these measures to gain the maximum engagement of the workforce.

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