Tapping into the ‘great unretirement’

The growing trend of workers changing their retirement plans presents an opportunity for employers, says Mitchell Roberts – but there are potential pitfalls

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With inflation rates reaching more than 9 per cent and higher energy bills likely to arrive this winter, many people across the country will be feeling the impact on their finances. In terms of those who have left the workforce in recent years, this may include revisiting their retirement plans, leading to what some are calling the 'great unretirement'. 

A recent analysis by online community Rest Less suggests that approximately one-third of its retired members would consider returning to work or had already returned to work following retirement. And data from the Office for National Statistics shows that, since the start of 2022, the number of people aged 50 and over who are 'economically inactive' has been decreasing. 

With the prospect of a rising number of older workers remaining in or rejoining the workforce, this presents an opportunity for employers. But what are the practical considerations for businesses seeking to maximise the benefits of a multi-generational workforce while avoiding pitfalls and the risk of complaints of age discrimination?

Benefits for employers

A multi-generational workforce inclusive of older workers offers significant value to businesses. Broader life experiences present opportunities such as colleague mentoring and employees who have seen huge advances in working practices and technology during their working life. 

More generally, this boost to the pool of potential candidates goes some way to addressing the recruitment challenges caused by a current skills shortage and increasing restrictions on recruiting workers from overseas. 

Attracting talent 

Employers should ensure their recruitment processes are designed to attract a broad talent base that is inclusive of older workers, who should be treated in the same way as others applying for vacant roles. Job adverts should avoid language that may give rise to inferences about age, such as 'youthful' and 'energetic', which could deter applications from older workers.  

Businesses should use age-neutral criteria when assessing the best candidate for the job. Generally, the criteria used for hiring a candidate should not include age (unless there is a clearly evidenced and objectifiable reason that an employee cannot be of a certain age, albeit this will rarely be the case).

It will be particularly important for employers to take steps to avoid the influencing of recruitment decisions through stereotyping older workers. Care should also be taken where an employer considers rejecting a candidate based on speed of work and use of technology. Such considerations should be accompanied by objective data to support any such conclusion. 

Training and promotion

Companies should ensure that employees are given equal access to training opportunities and are provided with the required training for their role, irrespective of age. 

In a similar way to job applications, employers should also ensure that any promotions within their business are based on objective criteria, such as internal targets, and that assumptions are not made about the career aspirations of older workers. 

Businesses should be responsive to the differing needs and concerns of their employees, at the various stages of their life, to recruit and retain talent. Workers who may be returning to the workplace are likely to particularly value flexibility in terms of hours and working arrangements and may have different wellbeing and physical concerns. 

Should an employer have concerns about age discrimination in the workplace remedial action should be taken, such as training staff on issues of diversity and equality. Inappropriate behaviours that may refer to an employee's age should be treated consistently with concerns engaging other protected characteristics such as sex and race, and should not be overlooked or dismissed as ‘banter’ or a joke.

All that said, the expected increase in the number of older workers rejoining the workforce presents an opportunity for employers at an otherwise challenging time for the recruitment of staff. 

Mitchell Roberts is an associate at Taylor Wessing