How old is old?

As the Government is considering increasing the statutory retirement age and more and more retired people are returning to work, PersonnelToday.com has investigated the attitudes of more than 500 HR professionals and around 1,000 adults from a cross-section of the population of Great Britain (NOP Omnibus 1-3 October) towards retirement age and an ageing workforce. 

The fact that the UK workforce is getting older is acknowledged by four fifths (84%) of HR professionals and two thirds (68%) of the public. However, those at work are considered to be ‘old’ once they are over 60 – with the general population stating that a worker is thought to be ‘old’, on average, when they reach 63 and with HR professionals leaving it a year later at 64.  Nearly three quarters (73%) of working adults surveyed believe they will not need to work past the age of 65. This positive outlook may be due to more than four fifths (81%) of working respondents stating they have at least one investment method to prepare for their retirement.

More than half (57%) have company pensions, more than a third (36%) have private pensions and more than two fifths (42%) have other investments they are relying on.   It is not such good news for the younger generations though, nearly two thirds (63%) of the population think those currently under 30 will have to work until they are 70. Two fifths (40%) of the 15 to 24-year-old respondents don’t think they will have to work until they are 70. However, three quarters (76%) of HR professionals believe they will.  When asked when their best working years were, or will be, the average response from the general population was in their 30s (36%) or40s (25%).
The age of the respondent affected the answer given with those aged 15 to 24 stating the best years would be their 30s, while those over 65 identifying their 40s as their most productive.  The reasons behind the decisions varied, with those stating their 20’s would be their best years as they were/are strong, had more energy and were more enthusiastic.

While those stating that their most productive years were/will be their 40s and 50s based their decision on having more experience/knowledge, more confidence and when they had achieved the most.  There is a widespread perception that UK companies do not want to employ people over 65, with three-quarters (75%) of the public and a staggering 88% of HR professionals agreeing that most companies in the UK do not want to employ people over this age. This perception is not based on personal feelings about age in the workforce, as nearly three quarters (73%) of the public and nearly two thirds (65%) of HR professionals disagreed that people over 65 are too old to do most jobs. 

There is a consistently negative perception that UK companies discriminate against older workers, with over nine tenths (91%) of HR professionals and over three fifths (61%) of the general population believing that the problem is widespread.   However, this issue seems to be more of a perception than reality as nearly three quarters (74%) of HR professionals do not believe their own organisation discriminates against older workers, and of the public just over one in ten (11%) over 55 year olds feel that they have been discriminated against personally on grounds of age.  

When asked a series of questions comparing employees over 50 to their younger colleagues, most HR professionals had a positive response. There seems to be a number of benefits to employing people over 50 with nearly all HR professionals (99%) thinking they are capable of adding value through experience, three quarters (75%) believe they take less sick leave than their younger colleagues, over half think they are easier to manage (51%), more efficient (51%) and less forgetful (52%) than their younger colleagues. 

Having said this, HR professionals seem to be under no illusion that there are downsides to the over 50 age group with more than half (52%) stating they are less skilled with technology, nearly half (45%) think they are more cynical and nearly a third (31%) think they are more expensive to employ then younger workers in the same position. 

It seems inevitable that with a falling birth rate and longer life expectancy that the UK workforce will become older. Three-quarters (76%) of the population and nearly nine in 10 (88%) HR professionals believe companies will be forced to employ older staff because of an ageing workforce and skills shortage. However, companies in the UK do not seem to be prepared, with two-thirds (69%) of HR professionals believing their company is not preparing adequately for an ageing workforce.

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