Making workplaces age-friendly

Making workplaces age-friendly

In advance of our Member’s seminar next month, Brian Sloan, Chief Executive of Age Scotland writes about why all employers must take steps to make their workplace age friendly.

Wise and experienced – or forgetful and past it? Ageism might be illegal in the workplace, but outdated stereotypes still exist. Recent research by Age Scotland found that almost one in four workers over the age of 40 felt that they had experienced negative discrimination in their workplace. The media doesn’t always help, with a constant stream of stories about the “timebomb” of our ageing population.

The fact is, we’re all living longer – and that’s something to celebrate. But it also means changes in the way we work and interact with each other. By 2020 an estimated 36 per cent of the working population will be over 50 years of age. The idea of downing tools at 65 and putting your feet up is starting to seem outdated. Changes to retirement and state pension rules mean more people are working longer. For some of them, it’s in order to afford retirement, but others enjoy the challenge or social side of their jobs.

Whatever the reason, all employers will have to adapt their working practices to attract, manage and support a more age-diverse workforce. Yet the evidence shows they’re not keeping up – only one in five has begun a review of business performance, risking their future economic success.
It’s vital that employers are aware of laws relating to older workers. “Retirement” is no longer a “fair” reason for dismissal and could be seen as age discrimination. Any worker can bring a claim if they feel that they’re being treated less favourably because of their age.

But the law is just one reason why it makes sense to support older workers. They’ve built up years of knowledge and experience, and many of them genuinely enjoy their jobs and want to share their skills. There’s a common misconception about “job blocking” by older people – taking away opportunities from the younger generation. But this isn’t borne out by research. In fact studies show that if unemployed older workers returned to the workforce, it would give a £88 billion boost to the UK economy.

So how can employers create truly age-friendly working environments?

Health can be one of the main reasons why people choose (or feel forced) to leave work earlier than they wish. Promoting a healthy, active working environment benefits workers of all ages, boosting productivity and reducing sick days.

Clearly, some conditions are more likely to affect older workers. More than 93,000 people in Scotland are living with dementia – and people increasingly experience their first symptoms while still at work. Yet most are reluctant to tell their employer about a diagnosis or even see their doctor about thinking or memory problems.

Raising awareness of early symptoms and encouraging workers to share any concerns makes it more likely they can get treatment and support. It’s also a chance to educate all employees about how they can reduce their risks of dementia and other age-related conditions.

Flexible working isn’t just for workers with young families. More and more older people are juggling work with caring responsibilities, whether it’s a spouse, parent, or grandchildren. Health conditions can also mean people need to cut down their hours.

Retirement can be a tricky conversation – especially with a set retirement age no longer the norm. Many employers simply avoid it out of fear of being accused of age discrimination. But opening communications helps both sides plan ahead and make a smooth transition. We’ve found that people who attend our Planning for the Future workshops are much more likely to have that discussion with their employer and involve them early on in their plans.

Of course, age awareness isn’t just about older workers. It’s also important to consider an ageing customer base, and adapt products and services to fit their needs. Across Scotland, older people are playing a bigger role in businesses and organisations than ever before. Taking a proactive approach to building age-friendly working environments isn’t just great for older workers, but it benefits employers, customers, and the company as a whole.