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UK employers unprepared for ageing workforce

Wednesday 28 March 2012

There is little evidence of UK employers taking proactive steps to engage and retain older workers according to new research conducted by Cranfield School of Management and Nottingham Business School for Acas, the employment relations expert.

The authors of the research paper "The Employment Relations Challenges of an Ageing Workforce" conclude that if the UK economy is to fully benefit from the skills and experience of its older workers, a larger proportion of organisations will need to adopt age management policies and practices which are effectively communicated to their workforces.

Report co-author, Dr Emma Parry, Principal Research Fellow, Cranfield School of Management said: 
    "Despite anti-age discrimination legislation, stereotypical attitudes about both older 
    and younger workers appear to be both widespread and well embedded. To overcome 
    this, companies need a supportive culture with policies and procedures that focus on 
    supporting and capturing the skills and experience of older workers. And crucially 
    managers need the expertise and knowledge to deliver on these organisational aims."

John Taylor, Acas Chief Executive says: 

    "An ageing workforce brings new challenges for employers - for instance, handling 
    flexible working requests fairly and providing training or support to develop the careers 
    of older workers. Having more people working longer means that employers also need 
    to think about the job opportunities and career progression of the rest of the 

Employers will need to ensure their business policies and procedures are applied fairly and communicated appropriately to staff.

Taylor continued: 

    "In difficult economic times, this issue may not be high on the agenda. Employers will 
    undoubtedly need support and guidance to respond, but age issues should be 
    embedded at the very heart of an organisation's culture, and should not be a box 
    ticking exercise to meet employment legislation.

I've seen some outstanding good practice, including the approach taken at Center Parcs. Their retirement age had been a sprightly 75, but now even that limit has been removed, and HR Director Judi Leavor is unambiguous in seeing this as a good thing:

    "The nature of our business makes us an attractive proposition for the older worker, 
    and this works for us as well. The experience, customer-focus and the reliability of 
    our mature staff is a fantastic aspect to the business. Yes, there are practical issues 
    about age and health, but we have developed strategies to address these, and we 
    give great support to our employees. We wouldn't want it any other way - and you 
    won't hear the word 'retirement' here!"

Notes for editors

  1. The term "older worker" is defined in this research as those aged 50 and over.
  2. The Employment Relations Challenges of an Ageing Workforce was commissioned by Acas and written by Dr Emma Parry, Principal Research Fellow, Cranfield School of Management and Lynette Harris, Professor of HRM and Professional Practice, Nottingham Business School.
  3. Acas' aim is to improve organisations and working life through better employment relations. It provides information, advice, training and a range of services working with employers and employees to prevent or resolve problems and improve performance. It is an independent statutory body governed by a Council consisting of the Acas Chair and employer, trade union and independent members.
  4. Cranfield School of Management is one of Europe's leading university management schools renowned for its strong links with industry and business. It is committed to providing practical management solutions through a range of activities including postgraduate degree programmes, management development, research and consultancy.

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