More over 65s in work is a boon to our economy
Figures released by the office of National Statistics last month (June) show that there are now over one million people over the age of 65 still working, the highest level since records began in 1971.
However, according to David Sinclair, the assistant director of policy and communications at the International Longevity Centre UK, It’s not all good news for the over 65s. “The average age of retirement remains too low,” says Sinclair. “In an ageing society, and with the state pension age increasing, it is important for individuals and the economy that we increase the number of years we spend in the workforce.”
He continues: “Far too many people still leave the workforce too early, creating a huge drag on the economy. We must invest in improving the health of older people while also ensuring there is a supply of jobs to meet their needs. And we must ensure that discrimination does not act as a barrier to working longer.”
So, is having over one million over 65-year-olds in employment a good thing?
Rachel Kay, managing director at Thales Training & Consultancy, believes that when it comes to the workplace, it’s ideal to have a mix of people from different ages as it provides a range of knowledge, skills and experience. “The benefit of having a mix of older and younger workers is that peer-to-peer learning can benefit the organisation while keeping the insight and knowledge within. Older workers can pass on and share their knowledge with younger employees and they can learn from it and apply it to their own development.”
Kate Russell, MD Russell HR Consulting, adds that older people bring some serious benefits to organisations. “Quite often older workers have higher levels of motivation and take a pride in what they’re doing. Growing up in times when there was an expectation by all parties that workplace rules would be observed without question, they are often more punctual, better dressed and more interested in what they’re doing,” she says.
On top of this Russell feels workers of mature years need less supervision and are less likely to challenge inappropriately. “I regularly come across employees now who disagree with some aspect of their work and refuse to do it because they don’t want to, rather than because there is a valid reason for refusal. This is far less prevalent in the older generations.”
Is this trend due to a skills gap in the younger generation?
“If you look at the engineering industry, for example, Britain has a strong reputation, yet the industry is currently experiencing massive skills gaps,” explains Key, “42% of respondents of The IET’s 2013 Skills Survey stated that recent engineering, IT and technical recruits did not meet reasonable expectations for their levels of skills. By retaining older workers, organisations are giving themselves the opportunity to address the skills gaps by balancing the younger generation’s skills with older workers’ industry experience, ensuring that industry standards and competencies are met. It also helps the industry evolve and develop smarter and more innovative ways of working.”
The final question this raises is around whether this shows that workers over 65 are valued in the workplace?
“Over 65s are still very much valued in the workplace; they have a lot to offer in terms of knowledge, insight and experience which they can pass on to their colleagues,” says Kay. “Age is irrelevant if the person is the best candidate for the job. Organisations need to recruit the right people for the right job and move away from focusing on age and instead look at a person’s appetite to learn, their experiences and motivations and most importantly their relevant skills to do the job.”
Dr Christine Broughan, director at Age Research Centre, Coventry University, concludes that this really is a sign of our changing society:
“More older people in work is an inevitable feature of our changing world, perhaps sometimes because of a lack of pension provision, but more because over 65s can’t simply be categorised as ‘old people’ who should naturally be retired anymore,” she says. “As well as experience and depth of knowledge and skills, older employees continue to have energy and adaptability.
“Despite the evidence of the contribution of older employees, there continues to be an assumption that older people are some kind of ‘burden’ on society and the economy. They should be regarded more as an asset, extending their roles as good employees, as taxpayers reducing reliance on pensions, and as consumers.”
Broughan is also quick to point out that all this is not at the detriment of younger workers. “With the current challenges of youth unemployment, inevitably there are going to be related generational pressures on which groups get the career opportunities available,” she explains. “There is no evidence to suggest that older people ‘prevent’ younger people from jobs in the workplace – in fact all the evidence points to the contrary, that the continued engagement of experienced employees contributes to a more buoyant economy resulting in more job opportunities for the future, not less.”