February 25, 2015

Managing An Ageing Workforce

By 2020, 36% of the working population will be aged over 50, according to recent Labour Force statistics.

Recent data from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) has shown that employment in older workers aged between 50 and 64 years old has grown to 7.32 million and the numbers of those aged 65 and over in employment reached 900,000. These figures are the highest since comparable records began.

Specifically, the percentage of individuals over 65 years old in employment has doubled between 2001 and 2010.  Some employers have begun to manage the issues associated with an ageing workforce. However, many are unaware of these changing demographics.

Working without a default retirement age

In April 2011, Regulations were introduced which abolished the default retirement age.

Employers can no longer dismiss employees on the grounds of retirement when they reach the age of 65.  A practice of retiring employees compulsorily at a certain age can only be retained where it can be objectively justified as a “proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim”.When an employee chooses to retire, this now amounts to a resignation.

The normal requirement for the employee to give notice to the employer therefore applies.Encouraging Discussions about RetirementEmployers should encourage employees to discuss with them their intention to retire at an early stage.  This will allow for appropriate preparatory steps to be put in place before the individual leaves the organisation. An employee may wish to work on a more flexible basis before they retire. Flexible working alternatives might include working shorter hours, working on fewer days of the week, or travelling less frequently.

Employers can consider introducing a policy to explain the process by which employees can indicate their intention to retire. However, the policy must make it clear that there is no expectation that employees will retire at any particular age.

Managing performance

Employers must be careful not to assume that performance inevitably deteriorates as employees get older. Whatever the age of an employee, discussing their current workload and future aims and aspirations will help identify training and development needs. These discussions are a good way of raising the issue of retirement with older workers.

A structured performance management system based on an employee’s ability, capabilities and how they perform in their role is a fair and reasonable approach to managing performance regardless of age.  A review or appraisal system that is consistent across all employees will ensure such a process is fair.

It is important to remember that any problems associated with performance could be linked to a disability. Employers must, therefore, be prepared to make reasonable adjustments to the role or workplace where appropriate. There should be no assumption or suggestion that retirement would be an appropriate solution to any problems that an employee may be experiencing at work.

On a final note

Dr Matt Flynn, who produced the TUC guide “Managing Age” while at the Centre for Research into the older workforce, argues the sort of people who will still be in work post-70 are most likely to be the healthiest. He states…”I estimate it won’t quite be the numbers some are predicting – perhaps about one in 10 will work beyond what was ‘retirement’ age’.

He does agree that employers will need to change their views about older workers, and that dealing with the illnesses of older workers will simply be a part of normal resource planning.

By Stephen Johnson

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