Opinions

Age-friendly workplaces are more important than ever

Written by: Jonathan Park, Age Scotland

Published: 17/09/2020

Age Scotland HR consultants talk about the awareness, bias, and challenges around age in workplaces in Scotland.

There are twice as many people aged 65 years and over in employment today compared to 10 years ago and this number is set to rise as people remain in the workplace for longer due to improved health, financial necessity, changes in retirement laws and personal choice.  

For the first time in history there are now up to five generations in the workplace.  Whilst diversity and inclusion is high on the agenda of many organisations, age is not often a priority, despite the fact that an age diverse workforce is not only more common but can bring with it a number of benefits and challenges.

Research by the Resolution Foundation has found that the coronavirus pandemic has also brought with it a number of challenges for older workers highlighting that now more than ever organisations need to be age-friendly.

We caught up with Susan Gordon and Sue Adlam-Hill, experienced HR consultants working with Age Scotland to deliver our virtual Age Inclusive Workplace programmes, to hear what they have to say about age at work:

Why do you think age awareness is important in today’s workplace and how can organisations address age bias?

Age awareness is a growing area of interest for organisations dealing with ageing workforces.  It’s becoming a bigger priority for diversity and inclusion programmes and there’s recognition that age has been somewhat neglected relative to race and gender for example.  It only became a protected characteristic in 2010 after all!  Organisations are increasingly asking for support on how to ensure that employees of all ages feel valued, respected and can deliver to their full potential.

Many organisations are recognising that age bias exists in the workplace. It can show up in all areas including recruitment, training, reward packages, succession planning and career conversations.  Much of it is unconscious; the result of our upbringing, life experiences and media portrayals. If an organisation is serious about becoming more age inclusive, it needs to start by acknowledging that age bias undoubtedly exists.  

What are some of the challenges facing organisations today in relation to age?

Age-related issues vary widely from one organisation to another.  Employee retention can be a challenge, whether it’s retaining older workers whose skill sets are essential or younger employees who are feeling ‘blocked’ by colleagues who they expected to retire. 

In terms of health and wellbeing, there’s new interest in supporting women going through the menopause – something that was a bit of a taboo subject until recently.  Ageing workforces have different health and sickness patterns too, which can be addressed through preventative health campaigns for staff of all ages.

Organisations also want to do more to support employees with carer responsibilities which can be challenging when many older workers don’t perceive flexible working policies as being open to them.

Finally, employees aren’t spending enough time planning for their futures and aren’t always clear about their financial and legal options in later life.  When speaking to attendees at our Planning For Your Future pre-retirement workshops, we’ve found that many feel out of their depth in pension discussions and aren’t keen to discuss retirement plans with employers.  Our workshops can help employees to better understand their options and to feel more confident speaking to their manager, which in turn can help organisations with succession planning.

From your experience, why are more Scottish organisations asking for Age Scotland’s Age Inclusive Workplace workshops?

Our experience shows that HR teams, employees and managers are nervous about what can and can’t be said around age in the workplace.  As a result, age has been neglected as part of many Diversity & Inclusion programmes and it’s only now that organisations are beginning to ask for help in developing action plans towards becoming more age inclusive.

Some of the organisations that approach us are interested in early stage dementia awareness; how to identify signs of early stage dementia, how to help customers that may be living with dementia and how best to support employees with caring responsibilities.  Our ‘Dementia Awareness’ workshops can help with that.  

There’s a compliance element too since age became one of the protected employment characteristics within the Equality Act of 2010.  As part of our Age Inclusive Matrix programme, we’re often asked to help organisations review their policies and processes and to train line managers in how to have the right conversations with employees of all ages about their work issues.

In response to the coronavirus pandemic and the shift to home working, Age Scotland has recently launched its workshops in a virtual format so that the charity can continue to help employers create workplaces where workers of all ages feel respected, valued and able to fulfil their aspirations and potential – regardless of whether are working from home or in the workplace.   By offering a variety of virtual workshops and support that is inclusive and built on pragmatic and sound information, Age Scotland is able to support organisations as they build their own approaches to age at work.

Visit Age Scotland’s website to find out how Age Scotland’s workshops can help your organisation to become more age-inclusive (this link will take you away from our website).

Find out more about Age Scotland’s Dementia Awareness Workshops on their website (this link will take you away from our website).

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