UK leaders underestimate aging population, warns EIU

18 May 2015

The coming years will see changes in demographics as the European population ages. In a recent survey of European executives, UK respondents were found neither to be taking advantage of their opportunity to transform their businesses to meet their aging workforce, nor the need to start changing benefits required to motivate and keep their current workforce into the future.

Recent research from The Economist Intelligence Unit in on behest of Towers Watson, titled ‘Older, but none the wiser’, surveyed business executives across Europe on the perceived and projected consequences demographic changes will have on their businesses and benefits. The survey reached 480 senior executives at companies across Europe, with 84 in the UK.

Changing demographics
With fertility rates at historic lows across Europe for decades and with ever increasing life expectancy in the region, a demographic shift in work aged population toward older workers is expected to affect most countries in Europe by 2020. In 2012 the continent reached an inevitable demographic tipping point. The percentage of the population of working age fell for the first time in 40 years. With the trend expected to continue until at least 2060.

Older, but none the wiser

For businesses the trend is expected to bring challenges. As the working age population ages in a world that continues to demand higher and higher digital skills, businesses are set to face the challenge of a less physically able workforce whose skill-set lags behind the times. The research finds however, that while many European countries are already making provisions to meet the challenges – with especially Germany set to face the facts of aging population labour constraints in the coming years – UK businesses, whose work-force is not expected to reach the tipping point until 2020s, are failing to act proactively to meet the challenge.

The survey highlights that as it stands, only around 6% of the executives surveyed are considering an aging population as a problem. With the greatest concern of these times – cost control, with 68% of UK executives focused on the issue compared to the European average of 57%. By the 2020s however, the issue is expected to fall from significance, with 20% of UK executives seeing it as a concern. Restructuring too will cease holding business attention by the 2020, falling from an important priority of 26% of UK executives today to 4% in 2020. Innovation, expansion and talent management are projected to be the biggest issues facing businesses in the coming five years.

What, if anything, does your business plan to do by 2020 in order to adapt to the changing needs of your workforce

While the external strategic direction of businesses is set to change over the coming years – with Europe and the UK relatively close in strategy – the internal focus around the performance of the company’s workforce shows a different story. In a survey of the way businesses expect to cater to changes in work force demographics, shows that UK companies are not yet transforming condition within their businesses to meet the changes in demand from their workforce. By 2020 only 24% of executives plan to make physical changes to the workplace to accommodate an aging workforce, compared to 45% of German companies. Offering the flexibility of working from home is planned by 77% of executives in Germany, compared to 46% in the UK. Considering changing the working hours of older people, while allowing them to retain their status, is planned by barely 18% in the UK compared to 32% in wider Europe and 39% in Germany. Upskilling older employees is also not considered an issue for many UK executives, with 28% citing plans, compared to the European average of 46%.

What do you believe to be the issues your employees see as most important today

More needs to be done, believes Baroness Sally Greengross, Chief Executive of the International Longevity Centre, a UK think-tank on longevity and demographic change. “There is significant denial around the implications and consequences of our rapidly ageing population,” she said in a recent debate. “If we don’t change our employment practice, industry will face a skills gap: this is inevitable.”

Changing Benefits
While UK executives are not yet considering changes needed to future proof their businesses against aspects of the coming demographic change, many are considering changes to employment benefits, with 60% indicating it is on the cards for 2020, compared to 50% in wider Europe.

Employees are expected to start changing their expectations and demand in exchanged for improved motivation and performance according to the report. With economic uncertainty comes job security concerns – now believed to be the biggest concern of employees by their UK employers at 62%, however, by 2020 it will drop to a concern for 31%. Retirement savings are raised as important issue for 14% of employees today – increasing to 35% by 2020. The biggest issues considered by employees remains securing a good work life balance – at 55% today for UK respondents, decreasing 7% to 48% by 2020. Flexibility, as older personnel seek to mix retirement and work will becoming a bigger issue the report finds.

How likely is it that the benefit programmes you have in place now will remain fit for purpose in 2020

As it stands however, UK employers particularly lag behind the rest of Europe in terms of the suitability of the benefits they offer and the expected demand in 2020. With 48% responding that their benefits were unlikely or very unlikely to be up to scratch, compare to 24% that thought their packages will meet the expectation required to retain and motivate the employees of the future.

what challengesare employers facing in making changes to their retirement benefits


Why leaders must balance technical expertise with soft skills

17 April 2019

Soft skills matter in the workplace just as much as technical expertise, writes Samantha Caine, Managing Director of Business Linked Teams.

For too long technical expertise has been seen as the marker of a strong candidate for development into a sales or leadership position. Sales and leadership candidates are tasked with demonstrating a diverse and wide-ranging set of technical skills, yet their aptitude in these technical skills or ‘hard skills’ cannot signify great leadership potential. This is why a healthy balance of soft skills and technical ability is required. 

So what exactly is the difference between technical skills and soft skills? In engineering, it’s crucial to demonstrate knowledge of physics as well as a strong grasp on mathematical equations. Yet, in any industry, it’s important for leaders to be able to interact with other people effectively with soft skills like communication, empathy and adaptability. 

Business Linked Team’s 2018 study into internal leadership development revealed that 69% of large organisations are prioritising the identification and development of future leaders from within the workforce. As more and more organisations begin to invest in sales or leadership development within their existing workforces, more focus needs to be placed on ensuring the right soft skills are in place. 

With those soft skills in place throughout the workforce, the business will benefit from a wider pool of potential leaders developing under their noses, and it should be the same where sales candidates are concerned. 

It’s not just about easier access to ideal candidates for these positions without the rigmarole of recruiting from outside of the organisation. The leadership development study also found that 89% of HR decision makers say succession planning has become a top priority. Those currently serving in leadership positions can’t lead forever and the same goes for those generating sales for the business.

Why leaders must balance technical expertise with soft skills

From people leaving for new opportunities or retirement, to people simply stepping aside to focus on other areas of the business, successful leaders and salespeople require experienced and capable successors that will be ready and able to confidently step into their shoes and pick up the mantle without the business experiencing any lapse in performance.

Soft skills make stronger candidates

When it comes to the soft skills required, a strong leader must be able to manage through clear communication and effective time management, coaching and goal setting. They must be able to demonstrate empathy and empower their teams to be successful, productive and fully engaged. And beyond simply giving direction, they must also be able to take direction from those above them and cascade the business strategy down through their teams. 

A strong sales candidate must possess the ability to communicate value to the customer, negotiate well and protect margin or the ability to increase the scope of a particular sales opportunity. 

With the relevant soft skills in place, the business will benefit from increased productivity, greater agility against changing market conditions and greater transparency. In turn, this will provide visibility on issues and inefficiencies while removing opportunity for miscommunication. All of this can transform the culture of a department, improving employee satisfaction and reducing staff turnover. 

Ultimately, developing leadership or sales candidates will require the business to strike the right balance between technical skills and soft skills, and this requires an effective and sustained learning journey.

A balanced learning journey

Facilitating and supporting the development of leadership and sales is best achieved by establishing training groups. By cultivating training groups, businesses are creating talent pools that will inspire and support each other on the learning journey. However, personal goals and learning objectives must be defined for each individual based on their own existing skillsets and the skills that each individual needs to develop. 

With the emergence of e-learning, businesses recognise the value of online-based learning activities, yet many make the mistake of opting for one-size-fits-all solutions which are solely focused on self-study. A development solution will only deliver true return on investment if it combines e-learning activities with group learning activities that provide opportunity for shared experiences and support.

A blended learning solution that combines self-study and face-to-face group learning activities will aid strong development of the talent pool through shared experiences. Through these shared experiences, those undergoing the training will organically develop a support network that supports the development of the group as much as it supports the development of each individual. 

The blended learning approach is supported by one of the seven principles of human learning that socially supported interactions aid the individual development of expertise, metacognitive skills, and formation of the learner’s sense of self. The strongest opportunities for development can be unlocked by blending workshops with online activities such as virtual sessions, peer coaching, self-study, online games and business simulations. But it’s crucial to provide a blend of one-to-one and group sessions too.

Beyond delivering a better learning outcome for the employee, the blended learning approach allows organisations to adapt their training quickly and easily to shifting business demands in an ever-changing landscape.