Almost half of workers over 50 believe their age disadvantages them

Despite more than 10 million workers in the UK being over 50 last year, research, commissioned by the Centre for Ageing Better, has led to calls for more to be done to tackle age discrimination within the workplace. The research, which surveyed over 1,100 employees over the age of 50, highlighted that many feel they are discriminated against because of their age by being denied progression opportunities and having job applications rejected. Whilst 40% of the employees said that they were aware that their company had a policy preventing age discrimination, worryingly, 47% of them believe that this has made no difference.

As life expectancy increases, the time that people are remaining in work is also getting longer. In the UK there is no longer a ‘default retirement age’ with organisations only able to enforce a ‘compulsory retirement age’ if there is a justifiable and fair reason for doing so, such as a legal age limit or the physical demands of the job. Whilst some employers may be worried that an ageing workforce can have a negative effect on productivity, or will discourage younger applicants, figures from the Department for Work and Pensions demonstrate that the opposite is true. As Ann Wilmott, Age Director of Business in the Community stated, ‘employers are missing a huge trick as older workers offer a rich source of skills and experience.’

It is argued that maintaining and recruiting older workers helps companies retain staff with valuable experience and avoids labour and skills shortages. In addition, older employees can use their experience to help in the training of new recruits to the company. This can also be highly beneficial for the UK economy, with research suggesting that halving the employment gaps between workers aged 50 to 64 and those in their late 40s could result in a 1% increase in GDP.

In response to these findings, the Centre for Aging Better, in collaboration with Business in the Community, is encouraging organisations to adopt five steps to counteract discrimination and support older employees:

  • Encouraging flexible working
  • Actively targeting candidates of all ages
  • Ensuring accessibility to full health support
  • Providing opportunities for development at all ages
  • Creating an age positive culture

This research has been welcomed by the Government’s Business Champion for Older Workers, Andy Briggs, who called it a ‘wake-up call’ and asked companies to ‘face up to the realities of an ageing population.’

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