Over-45s feel discriminated against at work, finds survey

Employers risk ‘huge waste’ of talent if they fail to tackle age-related bias, with most over-60s not ready to retire yet

Employers have been warned they risk labour and talent shortages if they refuse to take action on age discrimination, after a survey found more than a third of over-45s believed it was a problem in their workplace.

A poll of more than 2,000 employees over the age of 45 – conducted by Aviva for its report Age as a Barrier to Opportunity – found 37 per cent believed age discrimination was an issue, increasing to 41 per cent of those aged between 55 and 59.

It also found a fifth (19 per cent) of respondents felt younger generations were favoured, and the same number said they believed their age had become a barrier to progression and development.

Despite this, the survey, which also polled 1,036 UK employers, found just 19 per cent of businesses admitted age discrimination was a serious concern, and 20 per cent were concerned about their capabilities to correctly implement practices to counter the challenge of an ageing workforce.

The report said employers that failed to eliminate age discrimination could potentially face a “brain drain” of experienced and knowledgable workers unless they did more to support this growing demographic and adjust workplace attitudes.

It called on businesses to identify practical steps and build support frameworks to ensure older employees felt valued.

Lindsey Rix, managing director of savings and retirement at Aviva, said companies risked suffering a “punishing labour shortage” and a “huge waste” of talent in the future if they refused to take action.

“Evolving social and workplace trends mean we must all be prepared for a more fluid working life. The mid-life population offers invaluable skills and experience that companies are potentially missing out on. Companies need to take action” she said. 

Workers aged over 50 account for 10 million of the current workforce, a record number, and the proportion is forecast to grow to represent more than a third of all UK workers within the next decade, the research said.

It found that 73 per cent of employees in their 50s and 60s believed they shared invaluable skills, experience and knowledge with their colleagues. However, 16 per cent said this transfer of skills was not valued by their employer.

Claire Turner, director of evidence at the Centre for Ageing Better, echoed Rix’s thoughts and said employers needed to “better support their older workers, eliminate age discrimination in employment practices and deliver progression and development opportunities for everyone, regardless of age.”

“Older workers can bring a wealth of skills and experience that are incredibly valuable. With skills and labour shortages predicted in the future, employers will need to recruit, retain and support those older workers if they want to remain competitive,” she added.

The study showed more than half (53 per cent) of workers over 60 did not feel ready to retire, which increased to 61 per cent for those aged over 65.

It also found those in their sixties were more likely than colleagues in their forties and fifties to work for the benefit of social interaction and the enjoyment of their role 

“It’s really positive that many people in their fifties and sixties want to carry on working,” said Turner. “Good quality work can provide a sense of meaning and purpose and enable people to save more for later life.”

The Centre for Ageing Better urged employers to adopt “age-friendly” practices such as ending age bias in recruitment, improving the provision of flexible working, extending training and progression opportunities for workers of all ages and supporting carers and those with health conditions.

“But this report reinforces that too many people still face age discrimination and feel their employers don’t value their contributions,” Turner said.