Since the abolition of the compulsory retirement age, businesses have seen the average age of their employees increase. This has meant businesses have had to reconsider how to ensure that all employees can work comfortably and safely. Dave Howell reports.

Over the past few years, organisations have witnessed a change in their workforces. The challenge is to support all age ranges to ensure full compliance with regulations, but also to understand and appreciate the differing needs of these groups and how they can be fully utilised across a business or organisation.

With the over-65 age group set to grow by 50% by 2030, and with an estimated 12 million people below state pension age, yet without adequate provision for their retirements, older workers will increasingly become commonplace, as these groups need to work for longer.

The Royal College of Nursing calls on all businesses across all sectors: “It is vital that organisations make a commitment to managing and supporting an older workforce. Understanding the learning needs of the workforce should involve asking key questions, looking at the data available and having meaningful conversations that check out the real live experience, hopes, fears and expectations of the workforce.”

It is estimated that the UK will face a skills shortage of over 7 million by 2022. One way to fill that gap is clearly to offer workers a longer period of employment. Business in the Community (BITC) states: “Employers can make adjustments to roles and working patterns to enable older people to stay in work. This will avoid the expense of recruiting and training new talent, and reduce the risk of losing your skilled older workers to a competitor.”

Clearly, organisations hold the human capital in their business in high regard. However, organisations can struggle to manage a multi-aged workforce that requires specific levels of support. For instance, according to Carers UK, one in five people in the 50–64 age range are also carers. Managers may need to offer highly flexible working schedules to accommodate these workers. However, according to the CIPD, only 25% of employers surveyed had a formal, written carers policy and 38% had no policy or plans to develop one.

Research by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP), undertaken by NIESR and UCL concluded: “While there has been an increase in the prevalence of formal equal opportunities policies explicitly mentioning age, far fewer workplaces have age-related equal opportunities practices in place. Findings from qualitative research commissioned alongside this study suggest some employers are wary of monitoring by age in case this is seen as discriminatory. This may be an area in which employers need reassurance.”

Valuing age

One of the issues that organisations face when managing a multi-aged workforce is how to progress individuals. Where training is concerned, for instance, older workers can easily become overlooked. According to research by BITC, 9 out of 10 workers over 50 would like to continue to progress their careers.

In addition, age discrimination can also have a negative impact on workplace cohesion. In a survey for the DWP, three times as many respondents believed that having a manager in their 70s was “completely unacceptable” compared to a boss in their 30s (15% versus 5%).

Managers can also tap into the vast range of experience that multi-generational workforces have available. McDonald’s, for instance, found that having one or more employees over 60 delivered to the company a 20% increase in overall customer satisfaction. IBM also ensues age diversity with teams having a mixture of graduates and older workers, and uses mentoring to tap into the knowledge their older worker has to offer.

One obvious area that must be addressed with multi-generational workforces is health and safety. Judith McNulty-Green, Technical Information Manager at the Institution of Occupational Safety and Health (IOSH), explains:

Research undertaken by the HSL Facts and Misconceptions About Age, Health Status and Employability as far back as 2005 identified that there are physical, sensory and cognitive changes to older workers. For example, there is between a 20–40% reduction in muscle strength and endurance between the ages of 20 and 60. A higher proportion of older workers will potentially mean more people with chronic conditions at work, so making good rehabilitation and return-to-work of increasing importance. But these can all be managed and minimised. Don’t forget that changes made will benefit all workers, not just older ones, and the impact of ageing on employees is as varied as the individuals concerned.

Patrick Thomson, Senior Programme Manager at the Centre for Ageing Better concludes that: “Managers who understand this and manage their workforce sensitively and positively will benefit from better staff retention, improved knowledge transfer — which can be incredibly beneficial to wider team performance — and better employee relations overall. There is of course then a knock-on benefit in terms of lower recruitment and training costs as the team is more stable, there is much greater peer-to-peer learning, the culture is positive and hopefully workplace issues can be more easily resolved.”

All organisations will have to manage an ageing workforce but a workforce that will become highly diversified. Many managers still need to fully appreciate the practical impact their multi-generational workforce can have on their businesses or organisations, but attitudes are changing to see older workers as an asset that needs to be continually nurtured. What is clear is that an ageing workforce isn’t a burden to be mitigated, but one to be appreciated and supported with practical steps to retain their knowledge and expertise.

Five key workplace improvements

Natural light

The most effective way to boost mental wellbeing across the generations is to increase exposure to natural light in the workplace; 87% of the over 55s and 83% of the under 25s state exposure to natural light is important in supporting their mental health and wellbeing at work, yet only 56% of 55+ year olds and 63% of under 25s have exposure to natural light sources within their working environment.


Companies are failing to meaningfully engage with their employees. Despite spending much of their day in the office, many employees do not feel that their company values their opinion on the workplace environment — only 17% of over 55s and 37% under 25s think their opinion is valued — and both age groups state they are rarely involved in discussions about potential changes for the office environment. To boost trust among their workforce, employers should conduct a solid change management programme and ensure they take the time to understand what their employees want and need from an office environment, engaging with them about any proposed changes.

Quiet areas

Both generations highly value quiet spaces at work — 80% of the over 55s and 80% of the under 25s say they value quiet spaces at work yet only a minority actually have them (34% of 55+ year olds and 39% of the under 25s). For a simple yet effective solution, employers should seek to increase the designated quiet areas and zones that staff can retreat to and include escape cocoon seating around the workplace.

Personal space

Nine in ten (89%) of 55+ year olds and 80% of the under 25s value personal workspaces, yet only 69% of 55+ year olds and 61% of the under 25s have a place to call their own in the office. To address this discrepancy, companies must look beyond the modern hot-desking trend, consult their employees about what they really need to work productively and make the necessary changes to create a variety of workspaces so workers can select their own suitable space according to their personality and tasks.

Tools and technology

Eighty-three percent of the over 55s and the under 25s value tools and technology in the workplace, however, surprisingly only just over half of the over 55s (54%) and the under 25s (52%) say they have them. Employers should consult their employees about what tools and technology they need to be more effective at work. Failure to provide the right tools and technology will prevent them being mobile in the workplace and they will not utilise the variety of workspaces available.

Source: Peldon Rose

Last reviewed 25 May 2017