The benefits of managing older workers effectively

Judith McNulty-Green is technical information manager, IOSH

Older workers have the talent and experience the UK requires but, to benefit from these attributes, employers must support them well and stop discriminating on grounds of age. 

The UK’s default retirement age was removed in 2011. Yet, although age discrimination in employment has been banned in the UK since 2006 and all anti-discrimination laws were combined under the Equality Act 2010, an inquiry by parliament’s Women and Equalities Committee has found widespread failings in enforcement.

It seems unconscious biases, “casual ageism” and inflexible recruitment and employment practices are limiting job options for older people, especially women over 40. Government, the Equality and Human Rights Commission, recruiters and employers are all criticised by the committee.

The report of the inquiry into older people and employment, published on 17 July (bit.ly/2uEuJIo), concludes: “Ageism […] is affecting the ability of people to continue working into later life, despite longstanding laws against age discrimination.” Britain “is wasting the talents of more than one million people aged over 50 who are out of work but would be willing to work if the right opportunity arose”.

A previous Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) publication, Employing Older Workers: a guide to today’s multi-generational workforce (bit.ly/2ms9BkY), highlighted that older workers form a valuable resource. Age diversity brings benefits to individuals, colleagues, workplaces and wider society, contributing broader skills and experience, opportunities for skills transfer and mentoring, lower turnover and improved morale.

OSH professionals have a vital role to play supporting the management of an older workforce

Employers surveyed by the DWP in 2015 reported workers over 50 are “experienced, reliable, punctual and good at mentoring new workers”. To grow as the working-age population declines, businesses must retain their older staff. IOSH, too, believes good working conditions throughout our working lives benefit individuals’ health, society and business.

An ageing workforce raises employment challenges and opportunities. “Older people are not a homogeneous group”, the parliamentary report cautions, recognising the “varied needs and aspirations of the ageing population”. IOSH has long called on employers to deliver proactive age management, including better-designed work and workplace adjustment, training, retraining and redeployment, flexible working and phased retirement.

Through our research and development and the expertise of our members in Britain and abroad, IOSH has contributed to improving safety and health for older workers. UK employers can access free advice, presentations, training materials and case studies about the support and flexibility older workers might need in our Occupational Health Toolkit (bit.ly/2zPihv6).

Societies worldwide gain a lot through managing older workers effectively. IOSH recognised this dimension as Healthy Workplaces for All Ages campaign partner with the European Union safety agency EU-OSHA in 2016.

OSH professionals have a vital role to play supporting the management of an older workforce through diversity-sensitive risk assessment and helping to banish unhelpful stereotypes. Effective OSH management can also help to ensure all workers fulfil their potential, enabling organisations to become more resilient and successful.


Judith McNulty-Green, technical information manager, IOSH


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