Employers have not yet woken up to how to manage their older workforce, according to US-based business adviser, Tamara Erickson, of consultancy The Concours Group. Erickson has studied the impact of the preponderance of 45-year-old-plus employees in industrialised countries for her report Demography is Destiny, and feels there is a widening gap between employees’ wishes and employers’ needs.
“Many people say they want to continue working, but most say not for their current employer. But what they are really saying is ‘not in their current job definition with all of its rigidity’. They are looking for flexibility and a less-pressurised environment,” says Erickson.
Employers need to rethink, she adds. “They need to change the career path to a bell-shaped curve.” Erickson cites academia as a good employment model because it retains its experts in research and part-time roles.
The business case
Retaining or recruiting older workers makes good business sense, Erickson says, because employers need to keep hold of employee knowledge.
“It really is a tragedy if they take advantage of the vitality of people who are active and intellectually engaged.” Yet in spite of their good intentions, UK employers are walking a tightrope – they need to retain and attract older workers for many reasons. They are waking up to the fact that their workforce make-up needs to reflect that of their diverse and ageing customer base and because they do not want to fall foul of any age discrimination legislation.
However, employers also need to ensure that they do not disenfranchise younger workers. There are concerns that younger people could bring tribunal claims against their employers under the forthcoming age discrimination legislation. It could cut both ways, warns equality and diversity expert, Audrey Williams, a partner at law firm Eversheds.
Bank on balanced change
At the insurance and investment division of HBOS, diversity change manager Christine Lawton is looking for a balanced approach to recruiting older people who will in turn reflect customer demographics. For example, her plans for an over-40s recruitment event involve hosts from all age groups, including the under-24s, who currently make up a large proportion of the workforce.
“An age mix works best,” she says. “We’re trying to weave diversity into just about everything we do. Diversity has got to be a mainstream activity. It’s all about making sure that no one here feels discriminated against for any reason. We are trying to treat people as individuals rather than groups.”
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