Flexible Employer Roundtable #3 - Supporting Employees Into Their 50s and Beyond

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As part of Mumsnet Talent’s Flexible Employer Programme, we hold quarterly roundtables with some of the UK’s top employers to find out about the flexible challenges they face, and to share advice and learnings across industries. 

This quarter we teamed up with Gransnet to hold a roundtable on “The Future of Work: Supporting Employees Into Their 50s and Beyond”. We were joined by representatives from Compass Group, Now Teach, bookouture, Grant Thornton, Pitney Bowes and Premier Global NASM, all of whom had questions to ask and wisdom to contribute. 

How are older people seen by society?

Cari Rosen and Lara Crisp, who run Gransnet, are passionate about how older people are represented (and misrepresented). Advertising, they explain, constantly underestimates older people. The perception is that once you hit 55, you immediately cease to be active, throw out your fashionable wardrobe, and buy at least six pairs of comfortable slippers. In reality, far from winding down, people who are older are far more likely to have more disposable income, and more free time in which to spend it. 

Peta Nightingale from bookoutre could confirm this, sharing that the publishing industry has recently found that their most engaged customers are older people. Interestingly, she said, these readers don’t consider themselves old — books featuring older characters are no more popular with the over 50s than books about young people. 

However, Gransnet research also highlighted a significant gender split in the way older people feel they are perceived; the average age at which women begin to feel “invisible” is 52, whereas for men, it’s 64. 

But how does this translate into the world of work?

It’s easy to forget that 50 can mark only the halfway point in the average person’s working life. Currently the UK has 10 million workers over the age of 50, and in the next decade, a third of UK employees will be aged 50+. With an aging population and the state pension age continuing to increase, it’s vital to change the way we think about older people in the workplace, especially when addressing how employers attract, support and retain them.

It’s the Mumsnet Talent mantra: flexibility is the future. But flexibility really is key to helping the over 50s to maintain their career and offer their skills and experience to their employers. Angela Holland, from Pitney Bowes, concurs; she’s found offering working patterns of four days a week have really made a difference, extending the opportunity to many who otherwise wouldn’t be able to take the job. And, she explains, it’s even had another benefit — employing an older person for four days instead of five is cheaper for the company too.

 

What barriers exist to supporting the over 50s in the workplace?

 

Nine out of 10 people are in work at the age of 50 — but this drops to one in two for people in their mid-sixties. This isn’t always by choice; a 2019 study from Aviva showed that one third of mid-life workers believe their age is a barrier to their career. Even Shenara Jarrett, the representative from Grant Thornton, admitted that high-ranking partners in their company are encouraged to retire once they hit 60.

But it seems that even when intentions are good, employing older people can be a challenge for businesses. Most of our attendees admitted that they’d found it difficult to attract those over 50. Rather than a technology barrier, this was likely in part down to the lack of confidence of the talent pool. This is a problem that historically has affected women of all ages. 

Using the right tone in job adverts

To solve this issue, the language of job adverts must change. The famous statistic goes that a man will apply for a job if he meets 60% of the requirements, while a woman will only apply if she meets 100%. Mumsnet Talent have always challenged the use of specific qualifications in job adverts, instead encouraging businesses to list transferable skills. Occasionally a job may require specific experience, true — but often, many qualified, capable applicants count themselves out due to unnecessary specifications.

According to the experts at Gransnet, tone is also key to attracting older applicants. Positive messages that reassure staff that their skills and experience are truly valued can go a long way to improving confidence, encouraging career growth and getting the best out of older employees. Success stories would go a long way towards improving business employer branding — if feeling invisible is a problem, we need to make successful older people more visible.

Finally, the point was raised that the problem can often sit with interviewers. Panels made up of younger employees can often be negative or even dismissive about age, a finding that was echoed by Mumsnet users: “I have found that when the interviewer is over 50 themselves, I have always been offered the job. Younger interviewers tend to be more negative.” (Lyndylou). A suggested approach is that businesses could try to make interview panels more representative, along with bringing the rest of the business up to a more age-equal standard. 

Older people and technology

It’s clear that the mistaken perception that older people struggle to use technology is rife in the world of business. As Cari Rosen points out, all ages struggle with unfamiliar technology, and imagining that everyone over the age of 50, or even 60, is a clueless luddite is simply absurd. But should training for an older person specifically take technology into account? 

Now Teach believes the answer is yes, but not necessarily because of age. Often, said Robert Dickinson, someone who has spent their career in a highly senior role may not have had to use day-to-day admin tools like the Google Suite. Including these programs in their induction has been a success for them, as new trainees have been able to adapt easily without having to potentially feel embarrassed by having to ask. 

However, Peta Nightingale from bookoutre explained that they had found success by tailoring their inductions to the individual new starter, regardless of age. bookoutre’s tailored inductions aren’t limited to technology; they’re tailored to each employee’s level of experience and knowledge of the industry. 

Ultimately, it’s clear that the correct approach to hiring and supporting those over 50 will change depending on industry, level and experience. Nonetheless, it’s a demographic that is frequently overlooked - and that’s something that businesses must change if they are to thrive in the future.

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