Rights for older staff set to come of age

The Government’s long awaited report into “active ageing” – the question of
how to keep older workers in the labour market – throws down some interesting
challenges for HR professionals in the UK. It is clear that we are watching the
opening developments in the process of age diversity becoming the next big
equality issue.

What is interesting is the way the Cabinet Office has chosen to approach the
issue from an economic point of view, talking in terms of the loss to
productivity and the cost to taxpayers through extra benefit payments.

So why should employers and HR professionals take age discrimination
seriously? At a fundamental level, while half the population are women, and a
smaller proportion come from an ethnic minority background, we are all going to
get older.

There are huge training (and re-training) issues for everyone to consider.
As the report highlights, one disadvantage that older workers do suffer from is
having obsolete skills. Can anyone really doubt that with the breakneck pace of
technological evolution this is going to get any better? Particularly with the
death of the job-for-life for many employees, multi-skilling and lifelong
learning become even more important.

There is the loss of corporate memory organisations have reported when they
fail to value the contribution of older workers. People do not work for decades
in the same job without picking up a few tricks of the trade.

Finally, the bottom line is that if companies do not pull there socks up on
age diversity the Government will bring in anti-discrimination legislation.
This is something few employers will relish, but given the record of voluntary
self-improvement let’s face it the legislation will be on the way.

While the PIU can only make recommendations, this report is an important
document nonetheless as it doubtless points up the kind of issues HR
departments are going to need to start thinking about over the next few years.
It might not be as important as legal rulebooks, but keeping a copy close to
hand would not be a bad idea.

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