HR directors must lead the way on age policy

Personnel directors who are on the board of companies should champion older people’s rights otherwise age diversity policies will not be taken seriously.

HR director at Customs and Excise Richard Allen told the Employers Forum on Age’s annual conference in London last week that he is at the forefront of championing age diversity in his organisation. He urged other directors to challenge existing practices.

The comments came as the DfEE released figures this week showing that the number of people aged over 50 in work has risen by 2.4 per cent or 131,000 people in the past year. But 78 per cent of unemployed people in that group feel their age counts against them when looking for work.

B&Q’s quality and diversity manager Kay Allen urged HR practitioners at the EFA conference to recognise the “huge” benefits such as vastly reduced recruitment costs that employing older staff can bring. She said, “Go back to your organisations and insist on top-level commitment. Also, get a diversity champion reporting to the board.”

She said her organisation is in the midst of diversity awareness training for all 23,000 staff.

Richard Allen said he has commissioned research to identify areas where age bias, against both older and younger staff, might exist. Some job adverts have also begun to include a statement that applications from mature applicants are welcomed.

One challenge faced by Customs and Excise, he added, is the lack of age range among staff. He told the audience, “We have been downsizing continuously for about 10 years. There is a great bulge [of staff] aged about 40 and very few people in their 50s.”

Secretary of State for Social Security Alistair Darling, who is also the Cabinet minister responsible for older people, told the conference that attitudes must change. He said, “One in three people aged between 50 and pensionable age is not working. Only a third of them actually choose not to work.

“There is a clear message to employers. You cannot afford to write people off simply on the basis of prejudice or inflexibility.”

www.efa.org.uk

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