Ageism in the Workplace – Problem or Opportunity?

With all their experience, you’d think employers would revere older workers. Yet research shows that more than a third of employees believe there is age discrimination in their workplace. And, despite employment law which should protect workers from age discrimination, a significant 19% of employers share the same concerns.
With the ONS predicting a continued increase in the proportion of older workers, are employers missing out on a golden opportunity by ignoring older workers in favour of younger employees? We take a look at this issue, the benefits that a more mature workforce bring and the steps you can take to attract and retain older employees.

Why Employers Might Have to Hire More Older Workers

Between 1993 and 2018, the number of workers over the age of 65 doubled. And employment for those aged 50 to 64 increased by a third. There are many factors contributing to this rise in work rates amongst older people including:

  • Longer life expectancy and better health – many people simply feel they are not ready to retire yet.
  • Job enjoyment – plenty of people enjoy their work and want to continue.
  • Social interaction – work fills a large proportion of the day with the social contact that many might not otherwise get.
  • Lack of pension savings – some people need to keep earning a living thanks to pension changes.

According to the ONS, the number of older workers is set to continue because by 2041 the baby boomers who are currently in their 50s will have moved into older age. By 2066, there will be a further 8.6 million UK residents aged 65 years and over, taking the total number in this group to 20.4 million and making up 26% of the total population. 
It’s expected that more of this group will continue to work. Making it more likely that employers will need to hire from this population. 

Why Hire Older Employees?

As employees progress through their careers they amass significant skills, experience and knowledge. This creates something akin to skills muscle memory, enabling employees to access and flex their expertise at will. 
Ageist employers who overlook older workers for younger employees risk a potential brain drain as mature employees seek more open-minded businesses who are willing to support them. One such employer, well known for their willingness to employ older people, is B&Q.

B&Q – A Case In Point

It’s 20 years since B&Q launched its pioneering age diversity project. The scheme was instigated following feedback from customers who wanted to be served by someone who had lived in their own home and knew something about DIY.
In response, in the late 1980s, B&Q staffed its Macclesfield store solely with over 50s (which of course would be illegal today). Eleven years later, the company worked with Warwick University to benchmark the Macclesfield store against four other B&Q supercentres.
The results were extremely positive and helped validate the business case for an age-diverse workforce:

  • Profits were 18% higher.
  • Staff turnover was six times lower.
  • There was 39% less absenteeism and 58% less shrinkage (reduction in profit due to lack of scheduled staff).
  • There was an improved perception of customer service and an overall increase in the skill base.

Today B&Q continues to employ a workforce that reflects the make-up of the local community, but with an emphasis on employing people over 50. 
To make this approach work for them, B&Q adapted a range of HR poli
cies to ensure older staff were catered for. By offering a range of contract types, flexible working to all employees regardless of age and enabling employees to reduce their hours or take a less physical role, the company has created the conditions for mature workers to thrive.

How Can You Attract and Retain Older Employees?

ONS data shows that nearly nine in 10 people are in work at the age of 50, yet this falls to less than one in two for employees in their mid-60s. With so many highly experienced people who are ready and willing to work, there’s a pool of untapped potential available to your business.
Although you can’t positively discriminate in favour of older workers when it comes to recruitment, you can create employment conditions to make you an even more attractive employer. 
A range of HR policies that cater to older people could include: 

  • Solid health and wellbeing support offering peace of mind to older workers who are often concerned about their health. 
  • Income protection and access to occupational health support and employee assistance plans.
  • Financial education around retirement planning to ensure workers understand the options available to them. 
  • Aligned to HR policies designed to help older workers ease into retirement on their terms.
  • Recognise and make the most of the experience of older workers by pairing them up with less experienced employees.

Position your business in a way that’s attractive to older workers and you’ll become the employer of choice for this demographic. Positioning you to choose the cream of the crop for your business.

Find out whether your business is primed to attract older workers by booking your free HR review with experienced HR consultant Olga Crosse. Call us today on 0330 555 1139 or email us at