August 19, 2019
As we live longer lives, it’s inevitable that more of us want to work for longer. It makes good business sense too: with fewer younger people starting work to replace those set to retire in future years, coupled with uncertainty over Brexit and labour shortages, employers can’t afford to lose older workers.
Recent ONS analysis of the changes in the UK labour composition during and after the 2008 economic crash show that over-50s made the largest contribution to post-downturn growth in total hours and now fill a third (30 percent) of all hours worked in the UK. Their share of working hours began rising the fastest post-recession and has increased the most compared to other age groups since then.
Much of the increase in employment has come from people remaining in work for longer – rather than from new entrants to the labour market
This makes sense. The data shows that, since mid-2011, the number of people in employment has increased consistently, resulting in a rise of more than three million and a record 32.2 million people in work. In part, this is caused by a higher proportion of people working – for employers or for themselves, both full and part time. The crucial point is that these three million workers have come disproportionately from older age groups. Much of the increase in employment has come from people remaining in work for longer – rather than from new entrants to the labour market.
Putting it another way, people over the age of 50 make up around a third of the UK’s workers, but two thirds of the increase in employment since 2011. Nearly half (46%) of self-employed workers are aged 50+, according to analysis for Rest Less. These trends are in part due to the ageing of our population as a whole – as a society we are older on average than in previous decades – but also from changes to behaviour and working patterns as increasing proportions of people delay retirement and remain in work in their 50s and beyond.
Older workers need more support
It’s clear that older workers played a role in supporting the British economy after the economic crash ten years ago. In fact, official figures show that halving the employment gap between the people aged 50 to State Pension age and those in their 40s could see yearly income tax and National Insurance receipts rise by 1% (equivalent to just under £3 billion) and a boost to our GDP up to 1% (£18 billion) per year.
But we know that there’s still a big challenge in reducing worklessness in over-50s. About a million people aged 50-64 would like to be in work, but right now they aren’t. And of course, we need to stamp out age-discrimination. Despite being illegal, discrimination against older people remains pervasive in some workplaces. Research by the Centre for Ageing Better shows that many older workers think they’ve experienced ageism at work and in the jobs market.
What’s more, when we look at how discrimination impacts older women, older disabled people, or older BAME groups – as well as those stuck in low pay – we can see that there is often a cumulative impact of inequalities.
Becoming an age-friendly employer is good business
These changes to the composition of the labour market are trends that are likely to continue. Making the workplace more age-friendly is one key step to recruiting and retaining over 50s and many employers are starting to wake up to this.
There are many practical things employers can do to create an age-friendly workplace. This includes making jobs flexible by default. Giving workers flexibility and choice in how they work has always been a great way to enable and encourage them to stay with an employer when life changes. This is especially true of over-50s who are more likely to have caring responsibilities or health conditions that they want to balance with staying in work.
Equally important is encouraging and facilitating career and skills development at all ages, not just for younger generations. Older workers often say they aren’t given the opportunities to progress, train or develop their careers that they need, a baffling state of affairs given the skill shortages so many of our industry face. Similarly, offering employees a mid-life MOT is a great way to get them thinking about the future– including making plans for working longer, steps to improve their health or reviewing their finances.
We can’t afford to lose older workers
Whatever your role in the changing labour market – whether as a recruiter, a manager or a colleague – it’s important to remember that the people you work with and who deliver for the economy are increasingly going to be older.
And if we are to make the most of our longer lives, we need fulfilling jobs which give us a sense of meaning and purpose, help us keep vital social connections, and provide us with financial stability as we age.
That means that becoming an age-friendly employer is not a ‘nice to do’, but an essential part of being competitive in a changing labour market.