Majority of older employees want flexible working, research finds

Experts warn that not accommodating ageing workforce is ‘depriving economy of skills and knowledge’

The majority of workers over 50 think employers need to make them feel welcome in the workplace, research has found.

The survey of more than 12,000 workers over 50 by Saga Populus on behalf of the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS), found that over three-quarters (78 per cent) of respondents said they would like more flexible hours, and 73 per cent said they wanted to see more part-time positions offered.

More than half (63 per cent) also said there should be more training and retraining schemes to help ageing workers gain new skills and deal with technology. 

In October, the CIPD’s acting chief economist, Ian Brinkley, told MPs at the House of Lords intergenerational fairness and provision committee that there was a “very thin offering” of learning choices for older workers, and that they were more at risk of ending up in “dead-end jobs.”

There are currently 10.2 million people over 50 in employment in the UK.

The government has vowed to tackle age discrimination and protect the rights of older workers through its Ageing Society Grand Challenge, part of its industrial strategy, which aims to remove inequalities and promote a “vibrant and inclusive” job market. 

Small business minister Kelly Tolhurst said: “We want to champion the role of older workers in the economy and ensure they have equal opportunities to both remain in and to find employment, so anyone who wants to can work for longer.

“Employers have an invaluable role to play in meeting the needs of older workers and we want to encourage employers, where possible, to adopt flexible working practices,” she added. 

A report on older people and employment, published by the women and equalities committee in July, found that discrimination against older workers was “rife” and that this situation was unlikely to change without action from the government.  

Following that report, BEIS hinted that the government may impose flexible working policies on employers, however, it later indicated that such policies would only be enforced on a voluntary basis before review in 2019. 

In January, CIPD head of public policy Ben Willmott told employers to “invest in the support of older workers just as they would anyone else in an organisation,” and called for HR and business leaders to work together to ensure training opportunities for older workers are available.

Senior programme manager at the Centre for Ageing Better, Patrick Thompson, said that “For older workers, [flexible working hours] can help them to balance work with their caring responsibilities or personal health circumstances, help them to remain in work for longer, and enable a phased transition to retirement.”

And charity director at Age UK, Caroline Abrahams, pointed out that many older workers are unable to work conventional hours, “depriving the UK economy of skills and knowledge at a time when the country needs to make the most of all its resources.

“Helping people work for longer benefits everyone,” she added. “While the cliché is that people only work for the pay, the reality is that many older workers also really enjoy the social interaction that a workplace brings, and it is an important part of their identity, so being able to work longer can be highly fulfilling.”

Catherine Sermon, director of people campaigns at Business in the Community (BiTC), argued that there needs to be a general shift in the way we look at older workers: “People need to recognise that the world of work is changing, and that everyone has a part to play,” she told People Management.

“Making a policy doesn’t necessarily make a change happen,” Sermon added, suggesting that employers should use the experience they have tackling other issues in the workplace – such as gender discrimination – and applying an “age-friendly lens” to these issues. 

“As people age and want to work longer, they want to work differently,” she added, stressing that employers need to adapt not only working hours, but also working tasks and training to make them more attractive to older employees. 

According to research by BiTC, ageing workers were also more likely to feel that their employer did not inform them about how technology and automation would impact their job compared to younger employees.