Mercer: Age friendly employers fill coming skill gaps

22 October 2015 4 min. read

Engaging retired workers to keep their day job will become increasingly important for organisations as the working age population greys further. Employers are yet to introduce clear policies and values that support older workers wanting to continue their careers. In a recent Mercer report the consultancy considers a number of steps that employers can take to encourage older workers to stay, including flexible hours, a focus on skills and preparing for retirement programmes.

In developed countries, birth rates have been steadily falling while life expectancy has increased. In the employment sphere there are a number of consequences that follow from the demographic changes. For employers it means that there will be fewer skilled workers available for jobs and the average age of workers will increase further. For employees this will mean that there is an increase in uncertainty about retirement entitlements, as the retirement period increases in length while those below them need to care for an increasingly large grey population. By 2050, the number of people over 65 years old will triple and the number of those over 80 will quadruple.

To meet the changing demand, a Mercer report investigates the current state of affairs within the realm of age friendly employment options and preparations among both employers and employees. The report is developed from a wide range of sources to capture the UK situation from multiple angles and stakeholders. The HR consulting firm worked with the Trades Union Congress (TUC), De Poel (a leading expert in temporary recruitment), and the Recruitment & Employment Confederation (REC). A survey was completed by 69 companies, of which 49% are listed, 42% are privately held, and 9% not-for-profit. More than two-thirds are headquartered in the UK. More than 3.4 million employees are represented by these employers.

Top Long- and Short-term HR Priorities

Age related policy
Two thirds of employers mention age in their discrimination and inclusion policies, however, the focus is often tied to moving the aged worker into retirement, thus from working status to a non-working status. The way the retirement age is governed at a national level is however changing, and as more workers are retiring but still needing to supplement their incomes, changes are afoot that in more than two thirds of companies are not reflected within internal policies and values. The need for such changes is recognised by 84% of respondents. Engaging and accommodating older workers is something that needs to be actively pursued on a variety of levels, including changing processes and behaviours, in relation to age, in order to retain older workers in future.

According to the survey, the long term agenda places retention at the top of the HR priority list, followed by recruitment, diversity and inclusion. The report highlights however that each of these items will more and more need to be considered through the lens of changes in demographics, as it might be older workers whom organisations need to retain, recruit and keep up-to-date, to have the talent basis to reach strategic goals.

Savings confidence

Employee engagement
It is not merely that employers will need to entice, accommodate and retain their aging workforce; for some employees the need to work beyond the traditional requirement age is also becoming an issue. Around 50% of employees do not feel confident that they have enough in the bank to retire safely, while they do express feeling confident that they can continue to do their job as they grey. Accommodating employees that want to, or need to, work beyond the age in which they have a right to retirement will require that the various stake holders, businesses and governments create the conditions in which this is possible.

Employee focus

The age friendly employment environment
The survey explores possible policies that potentially create an age friendly employment environment. Respondents identify 17 policies for aged employees, of which flexible working for all age groups was one of the most effective policies, 78% find it very effective and 20% somewhat effective. ‘Preparing for retirement’ programmes are found to be very effective at 86% and 14% somewhat effective. One of the most effective policies is ‘older workers apprenticeships’, with a 100% rating.

In terms of the top five policies offered by respondent organisations, 81% offer flexible working conditions, 52% prepare workers for retirement, 45% provide advice for those caring for aging relatives, 36% provide analytics for various age groups and 30% have age specific wellness programmes. The report highlights that when it comes to training and development opportunities, older workers are often ignored – leading to a loss of opportunities for organisations and their skill capabilities.

Training older workers

The report concludes: “For many companies, there will be a great opportunity in experienced, often highly skilled older workers who have an appetite for, or can be motivated to, continue working. Incentives and structural changes are essential to facilitate this, as is an inclusive employment environment that welcomes older workers.”