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Image Negative perceptions about older workers are declining and there is widespread recognition of the value that they can bring to the workplace long beyond traditional retirement ages, says a recent report.


As the UK default retirement age starts to be phased out, leading to increased levels of older workers, a new report by the UK Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) calls on employers to prepare for these workplace demographic changes. A combination of anti-ageism legislation and more older work colleagues appear to have shifted attitudes on the part of employers.

According to 'Managing an Ageing workforce', a research report by the CIPD and the Chartered Management Institute (CMI), 93% of the managers who responded to a questionnaire agreed that the knowledge and skills of older workers were very valuable. Most said they had removed age from application forms and 91% offer training regardless of age.

As the report says: “The evidence is that negative stereotypes about the abilities of older people are gradually being eliminated over time.”

Is Your Organisation Prepared?

When asked whether their organisations were well prepared to cope with an ageing workforce, however, the managers gave a massive vote of no confidence, with only 14% agreeing that their organisations were ready. And only a third said the issue received board-level recognition. The report suggests that employers now need to adopt more sophisticated age management policies. These include age and skills profiling, improved performance management with better training for line managers, a more strategic approach to retirement and more involvement at board level.

93% of the managers who responded to a questionnaire agreed that the knowledge and skills of older workers were very valuable.


“The results suggest a surprising lack of preparedness within UK organisations,” the report says. “The removal of the default retirement age (DRA) is likely to require a major shift in perceptions and behaviour.”

According to the CIPD Adviser on Diversity, Dianah Worman, the Human Resources function needs to focus on “getting the board to understand the agenda and getting the line to behave appropriately”. Pointing out that 59% of respondents thought young managers found it hard to manage older workers, she said: “In particular, younger managers need to appreciate that what drives older people might not be the same as for themselves.”

Managing People as Individuals

Patrick Woodman, Policy and Research manager at the CMI, which represents the general managers who took part in the research, commented: “The big debate out there is about how to handle and manage older workers. There’s a real challenge and tension about this and 89% said there was no training in their organisation for managing older workers. But it’s not really different to managing anyone else.

“It’s about managing people as individuals and recognising that because of their age some issues are more likely to arise. They might need training, want to work flexibly, or be caring for grandchildren or elderly parents.”

The ten case studies included in the research show that the way in which organisations manage the ageing workforce depends partly on their type of business. For some companies, like RJD Technology, because the special skills they require can take years to build, staff members can work well into their seventies.



For others, such as Hutchison Ports, the nature of the work may be physically very demanding with a high degree of risk, making it more difficult for older employees to physically perform certain tasks and therefore continue working. In some cases, however, the company uses retired workers to provide holiday cover for roles needing inside knowledge and other employees have worked on past retirement age, including a 72-year-old former engineering manager who works part-time in the procurement department.

Other case studies demonstrate a wide range of approaches to older workers, from age auditing and retirement planning at the Magnox nuclear reprocessor, to flexible working and a senior officer to champion age diversity at Dyfed-Powys Police.

According to the CIPD, the reality is that there will be more grey hairs in the workforce of the future, so all organisations need to build age management into their strategic plans.

‘Managing an Ageing Workforce’: Highlights of the Report
  • 1,033 responses were received from junior, middle and senior managers, directors and HR specialists.
  • 42% backed removal of the default retirement age (DRA); 18% wanted to raise it; 35% to retain it.
  • 57% had a retirement age of 65, 19% had a normal retirement age below 65 and 16 per cent no fixed retirement age – roughly the same as in a similar survey in 2005.
  • 47% thought the DRA had brought no change, while 36% thought more employees now stayed on past 65.
  • 51% said their organisation was reviewing its policy or had done so since 2005. 43% did not know what their organisation had done.
  • 40% thought their retirement process needed to be reviewed, 59% thought it worked well for the organisation and 55% thought it worked well for the retiree. Of those with no fixed retirement age, 68% said it worked well for the retiree.

Source: CIPD

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