Crash Course in: managing an ageing workforce

From April, people won't have to retire before they want to. In a way, that's good news, as data shows there will be fewer young recruits around. But how are you going to adjust?

by Alexander Garrett
Last Updated: 09 Oct 2013

Rethink retirement. 'The first thing employers have to do is to stop thinking of retirement as an abrupt cut-off point,' says Chris Ball, chief executive of the Age and Employment Network. Not only will different people retire at different ages, but more people will expect to gradually wind down rather than switch off, he says.

Talk about it. Have an open and mature conversation with your employees, says Patrick Woodman, director of policy and research at the Chartered Management Institute. 'It's no longer an option for employers to initiate retirement, so listen to what employees say about their plans and expectations.'

Rethink the job spec. 'There are some key skills shortages looming and, if you are in that situation, retention is vital,' says Woodman. 'Look at how individuals' jobs could be redesigned to make better use of their skills and experience.'

Offer a change of roles. Chris Johnson, head of human capital at HR specialists Mercer, says: 'I don't agree that older people perform less well, but they do perform differently and some older workers may want to step sideways or even downgrade.' Consulting, mentoring and more office-based roles may be appropriate.

Be flexible. Older employees may be keen on working part-time or on flexitime and, to keep them, you need to adapt accordingly.

Reward performance. 'You must be frank in spelling out that there's a trade-off between their contribution and their reward,' says Johnson. 'And you reward for results, not for what they bring to the organisation in terms of knowledge or experience.' Flexible benefits also help: there will be a point at which health insurance becomes a significant extra cost.

Keep on training. 'If you don't offer career development through people's fifties and sixties then performance will tail off,' says Ball. 'Older employees are less likely to change jobs, so money invested in training may be well spent.' And train your line managers. 'Our research showed that younger people often find it difficult to manage older workers,' says Woodman.

Widen your net. Make it clear you want to encourage applications from older workers. Advertise in places where older as well as younger candidates are likely to respond.

Make your workplace friendly. Fit induction loops for the hard of hearing, make workstations ergonomic, encourage everyone to stay fit, and don't alienate older workers by orientating all social activities to the partying crowd.

Do say: 'You can teach an old dog new tricks.'

Don't say: 'So what do you want: the clock or the decanter?'

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