Employers unprepared for older workforces

A third of UK workers could be aged over 50 by 2020, but employers are not ready for the changes, a new report has claimed.

According to a survey carried out by the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) and the Chartered Management Institute (CMI), just 14 per cent of managers of UK firms believe that their businesses are in a position to cope with the demands of an ageing workforce.

The report, entitled Managing an Ageing Workforce, found that a third (34 per cent) of those managers who took part in the survey claimed that board-level understanding of the issues involved in employing older workers is non-existent.

This despite the fact that the overwhelming majority (93 per cent) appreciate the value of retaining experienced and knowledgeable older employees, with just 11 per cent arguing that such employees cost businesses extra money.

The report suggested that a lack of understanding at directorial level prevents managers from receiving adequate training in handling workforces that are growing progressively older.

As a consequence, some 43 per cent of those managers polled were not well-informed about their firms' retirement policies, while 59 per cent thought that it is difficult for younger employees to manage older workers.

Four out of ten said their workplaces are not age diverse.

With the default retirement age (DRA) set to be scrapped, the report argued that the failure of UK businesses to come to terms with an inevitable rise in the average ages of workforces could imperil their future success.

To help employers address the challenges ahead, the CIPD/CIM report put forward a series of recommendations.

These include ensuring that senior management teams are aware of how an ageing workforce will affect the available talent pool.

Firms should review training and development opportunities for line managers so they are up to date with changes to retirement policies and are given training to help them handle age-related issues and to get the best from older staff.

Employers should also, the report added, make sure that awareness of the changes to legislation governing older workers is high, particularly among decision makers.

Dianah Worman, the CIPD's diversity adviser, said: "In difficult economic times businesses are not galvanising the talent and skills available to help them perform more competitively. Employers will need to keep on their toes to respond appropriately to the phasing out of the DRA next year, which will have widespread implications.

"Clearly businesses already recognise the value of older workers, but this knowledge needs to be matched with appropriate action. We know from this latest research that managers aren't being supported or trained appropriately in the management of older workers, for example, but it is also apparent that the needs and preferences of older workers have to be better addressed."

Petra Wilton, the CMI's director of policy, commented: "The age profile of the UK workforce is changing, yet UK businesses are woefully underprepared for the impact this will have on their business. This latest research makes it clear that those at senior level in particular are failing to take the issue seriously and that discrimination is still too frequent.

"If action isn't taken, employees who are in the 50+ age bracket will feel undervalued and will have no incentive to carry on working beyond normal retirement age. The loss of their talents and considerable experience by businesses not prepared to adapt is reckless in the extreme."